Ireland have made an impressive start on their journey through the qualifiers to what will hopefully culminate in a place at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Looking to create history and qualify for their first ever major tournament, the team had two difficult fixtures last month to get the campaign underway, losing to Sweden in Tallaght Stadium before winning away to Finland in Helsinki.
The win of over Finland may prove vital to their chances of qualifying, with the Finns also firmly targeted the runners up spot in the group which the Irish are chasing.
While Vera Pauw’s side were defeated 1-0 by Sweden they did put in a colossal performance against a team who only recently won a silver medal at the Olympic Games. In front of a sell-out crowd, of over 4,000 in Tallaght, Ireland were resilient throughout and only for a very unfortunate Louise Quinn own-goal the result could have been very different.
Quinn, who is now playing at Birmingham following spells at Arsenal and Fiorentina was also unlucky not to win a penalty when her appeals were waved away by the referee. The 31-year-old is crucial to Ireland’s defence and is a key player for the team.
Ireland’s players, management team and supporters would have left the game full of optimism about the campaign ahead. The match against Finland was dubbed as ‘must not lose’ in the build-up however Pauw would have been fully aware following Ireland’s friendly victory over Australia in September that her squad were more than capable of winning.
Ireland got off to the perfect start in Helsinki with Brighton midfielder Megan Connolly scoring a fantastic free kick in the early stages. While Finland equalised early in the second half, the Girls in Green hit back almost instantly with Denise O’Sullivan who plies her trade in the National Women’s Soccer League in America for Carolina Courage getting on the scoresheet. Despite many scares in the final half hour, the girls held on for a famous victory.
It is very clear that there is strong momentum building behind this team. Never before have the Irish team received as much media attention as they are now and the likes of Quinn, Katie McCabe and Aine O’Gorman are becoming household names that every Irish sports fan are familiar with.
The World Cup dream is very much still alive. At the end of this month the team have two crucial, arguably must win home games against Slovakia and Georgia and with a capacity crowd at Tallaght expected to roar them on, the team, management and supporters can look forward to the games with optimism.
By Rory Cassidy
Image Credit: Sportsfile