Sunday 17 February 2019

'Holland are currently the best team in the world' - Record attendance expected as Irish women's team face the Dutch

Players and staff huddle together following Ireland’s training session at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Players and staff huddle together following Ireland’s training session at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Four years to the week on from giving the then reigning European champions Germany a scare, Ireland have reason to believe they can at least unsettle the current holders Holland at the same venue.

This is very much a free hit for the Irish. Should they be unable to follow up last November's draw in Nijmegen with another point, then Norway will come into their sights in June.

For a team never to have graced a major tournament, they won't mind getting to France next year through the play-off route.

Several of the side that pushed Germany all the way, eventually losing 3-2 in the latter stages, remain part of the current squad, but that result was soon shunted to moral victory territory when they were thumped in Tallaght by Russia later in the campaign.

The players didn't need Roy Keane to inform them during a brief visit to the dressing-room afterwards that they'd blown their chance to play in the World Cup spot.

Sue Ronan has since been replaced as manager by Colin Bell, who isn't one for looking beyond the scoreline.

He may need to after tonight's game, but there's been enough signals of progress during his 14-month tenure to foresee the duel with the Norwegians will endure into the summer.

Accounting for the seeds beneath them in the group, Slovakia and Northern Ireland, were a prerequisite to keeping the challenge alive heading into the business end of the campaign.

That they've done, amassing nine points from the three matches, but Norway are unlikely to slip up either against the north in Portadown tonight.

That's why this occasion, albeit attracting a record attendance for a women's international of around 4,000, is a bonus in the context of the group.

Should a first competitive defeat be inflicted of the Bell era, then at least Ireland can console themselves that the Norwegians will probably suffer a second defeat to the Dutch in September.

"In my opinion, Holland are currently the best team in the world," emphasised Bell about the nation ranked seventh in the FIFA standings.

"They completely outplayed England at the Euros and basically let them off after making it 3-0. The Dutch are capable of doing that against any nation. If we give them space and time on set-pieces, concede early or get tired, then we'll get hammered.

"This is the first time our side have played a double-header in the campaign, so there is the physical factor in having a second game just four days after beating Slovakia 2-1.

"Also, after getting the draw against them, the Dutch will want to put five, six or seven past us at home. That's a fact."

The risk of a hiding ill sway Bell into redeploying the defensive quintet that performed so diligently six months ago.

In the absence of the injured Harriet Scott, Karen Duggan will be given the task of trying to shackle Shanice van de Sanden, the right-winger who joined Champions League holders Lyon from Liverpool last year.

Threats will be sourced through other areas, be it captain Sherida Spitse controlling the tempo in midfield or Vivianne Miedema up front.

The Arsenal striker had bagged a hat-trick in knocking Ireland's out of the U-19 European Championships at the semi-final stage in 2014 but drew a blank on the night she was supposed to score her 50th international goal.

Her disappointment filtered into a post-match rant at the conservative tactics adopted by Ireland. Making her that bit angrier by 9pm tonight would extend the feelgood factor surrounding Irish women's football.

IRELAND (5-3-1-1) - M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry-Campbell (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), N Fahey (Bordeaux), D Caldwell (SC Sand), K Duggan (Peamount Utd); M Connolly (Florida State), R Littlejohn (Celtic), K McCabe (Arsenal); D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage); L Kiernan (Shelbourne).

HOLLAND (4-3-3) - S van Veenendaal (Arsenal); S Worm (Everton), A Dekker (Montpellier), S van der Gragt (Ajax), D Janssen (Arsenal); J Groenen (Frankfurt), S Spitse (Valarenga), D van de Donk (Arsenal); S van de Sanden (Lyon), V Miedema (Arsenal), L Martens (Barcelona).

Three key battles

Louise Quinn v Vivianne Miedema

The tussle between the Arsenal club-mates will be intriguing given how the Irish defender coped admirably with the Dutch striker in Nijmegen. Miedema, who was denied by the woodwork that night, scored her 50th international goal in last Friday's demolition of Northern Ireland. She reached her half-century by the age of 21 and in just 64 games.

Sophie Perry-Campbell v Lieke Martens

There has been a lot of talk about Martens in European football circles and she will present the Ireland right-back with another testing night. Perry-Campbell stuck to the task with rigour the last time out and may get some respite if the Barcelona star drifts inwards, as is her habit. The 'female Messi' will be a handful.

Megan Connolly v Jackie Groenen

Possession will be key and Connolly knows her passing is vital in the midfield battle with former Chelsea midfielder Groenen, who played under Irish manager Colin Bell during his time at Frankfurt. The Cork native, though naturally attack-minded, will be required to track back and help repel the orange wave.

Ireland v Holland

Live eir Sport, 7.0

Irish Independent

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