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Sunday 21 September 2014

Roche confident Ireland can see off Slovenia to keep up heat on play-off rivals

John Fallon

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

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Stephanie Roche believes Ireland are well prepared to mount a late challenge for World Cup qualification. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Stephanie Roche believes Ireland are well prepared to mount a late challenge for World Cup qualification. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Ireland's latest women's football export Stephanie Roche is still finding her way around French football but returns to home soil tonight intent on keeping alive her World Cup qualification ambition.

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The visit of Slovenia to Tallaght Stadium (7.30) marks the first of Ireland's three concluding World Cup qualifiers, and victory over the group's basement nation - whom they beat 3-0 in the away fixture - is essential to stay within touching distance of Russia for a play-off berth.

Five points separate Sue Ronan's girls and the Russians, heightening the importance of claiming full points in front a crowd that is due to include men's manager Martin O'Neill.

Since O'Neill's right-hand man Roy Keane implored the team to recover from the defeat to Russia he witnessed at Tallaght back in May, Ireland have collected four points and a pair of clean sheets in qualifiers against Croatia and the return trip to Russia.

Roche has also enjoyed an upturn in fortunes, sealing a move to French top-flight club ASPTT Albi last month, and believes Ireland are well prepared to mount a late challenge for qualification.

"Our team has been built upon a strong defence but, in recent years, more flair players have emerged," said the former Peamount United attacker, who became an internet sensation last October for her audacious volleyed goal in a national league game.

"As long as we maintain the form we've shown in the last few games, I can't see us having a problem beating Slovenia."

Life in France has been good to Roche since she packed her bags, although the language barrier remains her biggest challenge.

The presence in Albi's squad of former Peamount team-mate Solone Barbance, a French native, has eased the transition.

"Being a full-time professional footballer is what I've always wanted," she said. "As one of only two non-French nationals in the squad, I'll have to pick up the language quickly.

"The club are expecting crowds of around 3,000 for our home matches against the big clubs like Olympic Lyon and Paris St-Germain, so there's plenty to look forward to."

Ireland (probable): Byrne (Arsenal); O'Gorman (UCD Waves), Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Fahey (Arsenal), Duggan (UCD Waves); Roche (ASPTT Albi), Gorman (UCD Waves); Littlejohn (Sandviken), D O'Sullivan (Glasgow City), Russell (UCD Waves); F O'Sullivan (Notts County).

Irish Independent

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