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Caldwell bails Ireland out to keep play-off hopes alive

Republic of Ireland 1 Greece 0

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Diane Caldwell scores the winner for the Republic of Ireland against Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Diane Caldwell scores the winner for the Republic of Ireland against Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Diane Caldwell scores the winner for the Republic of Ireland against Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It was more narrow, and more nervous, than it needed to be but the Republic of Ireland got the win they needed to keep their hopes of a European Championship play-off place alive.

In terms of possession, Vera Pauw's side bossed the Euro 2021 qualifier at home to Greece but just the one goal, a rare one from Diane Caldwell, was sufficient to put the Greeks away. There was no late agony here unlike the away leg where the Greeks scored late to deny Ireland a win last year, a draw and the denial of two points which still rankles in the Irish camp.

The win puts Ireland well clear in second place in Group I, and a win away to a Montenegro side yet to gain a point in three games would all but secure second spot and the chance of qualification via the play-offs.

Not only that, victory in Budva on Wednesday would put the Irish side ahead of Germany in the Group table, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Ireland have to visit Germany in the next qualifier, in April, and given the Germans have scored 31 goals without reply in four games to date, that tie could be tough for Pauw's crew who will need to do a lot better to trouble the group leaders.

Caldwell's goal, only her second time to score in a 75-cap Ireland career, was a relief to the home crowd as the preceding events had been a frustration.

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Katie McCabe of Republic of Ireland in action against Christina Kokoviadou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Katie McCabe of Republic of Ireland in action against Christina Kokoviadou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Katie McCabe of Republic of Ireland in action against Christina Kokoviadou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ireland had been on top for long spells of the first half but had been didn't trouble the visiting 'keeper too much.

The Irish side, driven by the immense Denise O'Sullivan, broke free time after time, but for all the crosses to drop into the Greek box the final ball was either poor or non-existent.

It's a long time, back to the day of Roy Keane in his pomp, when the senior men's side were the closest thing we had to a one-man team - Pauw's current crop of senior players have one player who stands head and shoulders above all the rest - O'Sullivan.

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Amber Barrett of Republic of Ireland in action against Natalia Chatzinikolaou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Amber Barrett of Republic of Ireland in action against Natalia Chatzinikolaou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Amber Barrett of Republic of Ireland in action against Natalia Chatzinikolaou of Greece. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Rated by her manager as one of the best players in the world in her position, the US-based midfielder ran things in the middle of the park.

Some of the players on display are relatively new to international football, and O'Sullivan is on a different wavelength to some of her squad members.

There was some good attacking play but a more clinical edge, and better finishing, will be required to make Euro qualification more than a dream.

The Irish had started to threaten as early as the eighth minute, a great ball from Caldwell setting up Harriet Scott but her cross was cleared by the Greek defence.

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Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw, left, celebrates with Marie Hourihan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw, left, celebrates with Marie Hourihan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw, left, celebrates with Marie Hourihan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

O'Sullivan was close to scoring on 11 minutes, this time the build-up work done by Aine O'Gorman and Rianna Jarrett but O'Sullivan's effort was put out for a corner.

On 21 minutes came the move of the match, following a strong and skilful run from deep inside her own box, O'Sullivan played a good ball out to Payne but the attack faded before Jarrett could cause any damage.

The Greeks had barely been in the game for long spells but they seemed to adapt well to their surroundings and showed signs of life for the first time on 35 minutes, a good move from Danai-Eleni Sidira not matched by the final effort.

That was only a flurry of activity from the visitors who were unable to do much more and the Irish girls regained control.

O'Gorman and Littlejohn had good moments before Ireland finally scored, through Caldwell, three minutes before the break. A McCabe free-kick was headed on by Louise Quinn and Caldwell was on hand to convert from close range.

Ireland, watched by a healthy crowd of 4,511, sought that insurance goal but struggled to find it.

Littlejohn went close on 57 minutes, first when her close-range shot was saved and then her rebounded effort was well wide, while on 74 minutes she was a threat again, making space for herself to shoot but the final effort was off target.

Amber Barrett came off the bench, replacing Jarrett, and she was also a threat, coming up with a good move and shot on 87 minutes but the Germany-based forward - scorer of Ireland's goal in Greece last year - was unable to find the target.

A late Greek rally did not deliver the goal which would have been undeserved, so one goal was enough for Ireland.

IRELAND - Hourihan; Scott, Caldwell, Quinn, O'Gorman; Fahey, O'Sullivan; Payne (Russell 63), Littlejohn (Shine 85), McCabe; Jarrett (Barrett 72).

GREECE - Papakonstantinou; Chatzinikolaou, Sidira, Chatzigiannidou; Kynossidou (Spyridonidou 83), Markou, Kakambouki, Gkatsou; Kongouli (Sarri 65), Kokoviadou, Moraitou (Vardali 65).

REF - Maria Madrona (Spain)

Irish Independent