Thursday 22 August 2019

Defiant Irish girls keep dream alive

Netherlands 0 Ireland 0

Ireland’s players celebrate in their dressing room after last night’s Women’s World Cup qualifier at Stadion de Goffert in Nijmegen. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s players celebrate in their dressing room after last night’s Women’s World Cup qualifier at Stadion de Goffert in Nijmegen. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon in Nijmegan

Songs rang out from the away dressing-room after Ireland's women's team recorded the best result of their history by holding the Netherlands scoreless in their World Cup qualifier.

The significance of the draw probably won't be appreciated until the latter stages of the campaign but Ireland's feat of denying the Dutch a 12th straight victory says much for how they've progressed under the management of Colin Bell.

Three years ago, Ireland came within minutes of snaffling a point off Germany who at that time were the dominant force of European women's football.

They failed to see that mission out by conceding the winner late on and Bell sought to mothball the little mistakes upon replacing Sue Ronan in February, just as Giovanni Trapattoni did when becoming boss of the men's team in 2008.

Ireland stay unbeaten after three games of their bid to qualify for the 2019 showpiece in France, sitting joint-top of Group 3 with the Dutch.

Pressure

Although the European champions were far superior in terms of possession and chances last night, Bell's side stood tall amid unrelenting pressure.

They had spent the last eight days formulating a game-plan to eke out a good result from a daunting fixture and that hard work was rewarded.

However, for the Girls in Green to step up their chances of reaching a first major tournament, home form in 2018 will be crucial. Four of their last five qualifiers are in Dublin.

Up next is a home double-header in Tallaght against Slovakia and the Dutch in April, providing a window to at least finish second and claim a play-off shot at reaching the finals.

They even accomplished the draw despite goalkeeper Marie Hourihan picking up a muscle injury in the second half which forced her to kick with her weaker foot.

Those stray deliveries heaped more pressure on the Girls in Green but they managed to withstand the pressure to nick a precious point.

Mindful of the need to corral the Dutch attacking threat, Bell started with a new formation by dropping Niamh Fahey from midfield into defence across a back five.

The change proved successful as Vivianne Miedema, the 21-year-old chasing her 50th international goal, was denied the space she thrives on and spent most of the game with her back to goal.

On the rare occasion of a defensive lapse, when her Arsenal team-mate Louise Quinn failed to clear on the edge of her box, Ireland were saved by the post from the striker's ferocious low effort.

Miedema, the rising star of Dutch football, was far from impressed with Ireland's approach.

"Ireland didn't come here to play football," she moaned afterwards. "All they did was defend and hit long balls out of defence. This was a game we should have won."

Holland were forced to work hard for the rest of their chances, with Ajax defender Stefanie van der Gragt twice left frustrated by goal-line clearances by 16-year-old Tyler Toland.

Miedema missed a couple of half-chances to pinch the win, while Lieke Martens nodded over from a corner, but the jubilant scenes at the end were well deserved by the Irish heroines.

"Not many teams will get a result here, so credit to the players for sticking to the game-plan and shutting the Dutch out," said Bell. "Having watched Holland dominate at the Euros, we had to play three centre-backs and they, along with wing-backs Sophie Perry and Harriet Scott, were superb."

Centre-back Niamh Fahey was ecstatic, admitting: "This is definitely my best moment in an Ireland jersey.

"The pressure was on from the start but we didn't panic and kept to our game-plan. Hopefully we can build on this."

Their quest will be aided by the return of some experienced personnel. Aine O'Gorman and Stephanie Roche will be back for the friendlies against Portugal in January, along with US-based Megan Connolly following the completion of her studies.

Ireland - M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), H Scott (Reading); N Fahey (Bordeaux), K Duggan (UCD Waves); T Toland (Maiden City), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), K McCabe (Glasgow City); A Barrett (Peamount Utd). Sub: L Kiernan (Shelbourne) for Barrett (46 mins).

Irish Independent

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