Norway outclass Ireland in Tallaght to take charge in race for World Cup play-off spot
Ireland 0 Norway 2
The gulf in class between both teams was evident from start to finish, yet Ireland will live to regret the manner in which they gifted Norway two sloppy goals from set-pieces, to all but end their chances of making it to next summer's World Cup.
A goal in each half from Lisa-Marie Utland left Colin Bell's side needing a major upset in Norway on Tuesday night to keep alive their slim hopes of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time.
The manager however, insisted that while the return game is a 'must-win', he doesn't believe that it is mission impossible.
“No, I don't think so, I honestly don't think so, especially not after tonight's performance” a disappointed Bell said.
“We had situations where we were very good, situations where we got behind them, we've got the ball into the box but again, it's that decisiveness.
“The free-kick from Katie (McCabe), I think and then all of a sudden it comes down, we're not there. We need too long to make decisions and that's where you realise the levels that we are playing at and who we actually are playing against.”
Ireland struggled to live with the technical quality of Norway, yet the result might have been different had Leanne Kiernan managed to finish a glorious one-on-one opportunity three minutes after the restart.
Kiernan had a thankless task up front on her own but she ran herself into the ground. Bell was however disappointed with her execution.
"We should have scored, of course," the manager insisted.
"Leanne had a great run but she's got to finish it. It's got to be, instead of a low shot, she’s got to whack it into the net like she did against Slovakia. You've got to finish those things."
That miss sparked Norway into life again and they made sure of the points just after the hour mark when sloppy defending was again Ireland's undoing.
The defence failed to deal with another Guro Reiten free-kick and Utland had the easiest task to stag home from close range.
Ireland had started brightly but their good defensive work was undone after 21 minutes.
Niamh Fahey knocked the ball out and from the resulting corner which was swung in by Reiten, Utland barely had to get off the ground as she headed beyond Marie Hourihan.
The Irish 'keeper might have done better, but she was helplessly rooted to her spot when Reiten rattled the bar nine minutes later.
Norway dominated after their opener as the hosts struggled to gain a foothold. A rare foray forward resulted in a penalty shout when Katie McCabe went down inside the box, but the Ukrainian referee waved away the skipper's appeals.
Ireland lost their influential centre-half Louise Quinn to a broken nose 10 minutes before the break, which makes her a serious doubt for Tuesday.
Norway should have made their dominance count on the stroke of half-time. Reiten's delivery from the dead ball again caused havoc in the Ireland defence, but there was relief around the 3,172 crowd inside Tallaght Stadium when Isabell Herlovsen somehow managed to head over from inside the six-yard box.
Then came Kiernan's chance after the break before Utland struck for the killer blow.
"If we concede those sorts of goals then it’s going to be frustrating," Bell added.
"We had phases where we were better, had half chances so I don’t think we were that far away to be honest. It was just in those decisive moments that there was a difference of class."
Reiten came within a whisker of making it 3-0 four minutes from the end but her shot came back off the upright, while at the other end, Karen Duggan volleyed over.
By that stage however, Ireland's focus had already switched to Tuesday and how they are somehow going to overturn a quality Norwegian side in their own backyard.
Ireland - M Hourihan; S Perry-Campbell, L Quinn (C O'Riordan 36), D Caldwell, A O'Gorman; N Fahey (A Barrett 70), T Toland; K Duggan, D O'Sullivan, K McCabe (capt); L Kiernan.
Norway – I Hjelmseth; I Wold, M Mjelde (capt), M Thorisdottir, S Skinnes Hansen; C Graham Hansen (V Boe Risa 70), F Maanum, I Syrstad Engen, G Reiten; L-M Utland (E Thorsnes 76), I Herlovsen (S Jensen 89).
REF: K Monzul (Ukraine)