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Barrett urges Irish women to be patient in efforts to break down Montenegro

2021 Women's Euros qualifier preview

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Amber Barrett preparing for training in Petrovac, Montenegro, yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Amber Barrett preparing for training in Petrovac, Montenegro, yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Amber Barrett preparing for training in Petrovac, Montenegro, yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across Europe, Ireland's women's team will be consuming their thoughts on a different health warning in the tiny coastal village of Petrovac.

Just 180 miles across the Adriatic Sea from where the outbreak was most acute in Italy, all is calm and tranquil in Montenegro.

No more than 100 spectators are expected in the Pod Malim Brdom this afternoon but a mishap by the favourites would rank up there with any of the missed opportunities experienced in the history of the women's national team.

Thankfully, this team managed by Vera Pauw has at least broken the glass ceiling of conquering the second seeds of the pool. Victory over Ukraine in September was seismic.

Unlike Pauw's Ireland, who have their three most difficult tests at the end of the campaign, Ukraine had to endure the opposite sequence.

They had been thumped 8-0 home and away by Germany before coming to Tallaght for Pauw's first game at the helm.

Now, to maximise the hand they were dealt in the fixture list, Ireland must take care of the last easy assignment in a far more remote setting to that savoured during last Thursday's 1-0 win over Greece.

Prevailing against a nation 60 places behind them in the FIFA rankings is the only outcome the Girls in Green can countenance to sustain their charge.

In their 11 Euro qualifiers since they joined UEFA, Montenegro have yet to accrue a point. They've conceded, on average, six goals per game and have to navigate a preliminary round to be even part of the World Cup qualifiers.

"They struggle to get out of their own half in matches," noted Pauw.

Women's football in the Balkans has not progressed at similar pace to the men's equivalent since the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In the likely case of an away win today, Ireland will have amassed 13 points from five qualifiers, whereas their rivals for the runners-up spot have zero. Ukraine, who have this week lost friendlies to Iceland and Scotland, could not afford to drop any points in their remaining five matches. "That will not happen," observed Pauw.

All of that context highlights the importance of getting the job done. From the win over Greece, Pauw has travelled without Heather Payne but has drafted in Stephanie Roche and Emily Whelan. The talented Clare Shine, who has overcome personal adversity since bursting on the scene as a precocious teenager, will likely be handed the stage to excel.

Amber Barrett, too, is pushing for a start. It remains to be seen whether Pauw feels Rianna Jarrett is capable of starting two games in six days, given her injury record, but at least her deputy is match-fit having become a regular with FC Koln in the Bundesliga.

Donegal native Barrett looked sharp when introduced for the last 20 minutes, firing a chance of extending the lead just wide on the turn.

"Our target from this double-header was six points and we've got the quality to beat Montenegro," said the 24-year-old, operating in the Bundesliga since the start of the season. "Whether it's 10-0 or 1-0, all that matters today is getting another three points.

"We beat Montenegro at Tallaght but they gave us a good game; we know they'll be once again dogged.

"Of course, they'll sit off to allow us have possession but how we use the ball is the key. It's all about being smart with our passes and staying patient."

Pauw has pinpointed a failure to capitalise on their chances as an area of improvement, one Barrett agrees with. A repeat of the slip-up in Athens, when Greece equalised with the last kick, is not an option.

"We do need to kill teams off when we're on top," she said in reference to the last pair of matches against Greece. "The longer it went the more on edge we became. We've got to get that right against Montenegro."

IRELAND (Probable v Montenegro) - M Hourihan (SC Braga); H Scott (Birmingham City), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), A O'Gorman (Peamount United); N Fahey (Liverpool), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage); C Shine (Glasgow City), R Littlejohn (West Ham United), K McCabe (Arsenal); A Barrett (FC Koln)

Montenegro v Ireland, Live, RTÉ2, 3.0

Irish Independent