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World Cup moves a step closer for watchful Irish

Vera Pauw’s side will not be misled by 11-0 Dublin romp against minnows

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Ireland's Grace Moloney, left, and Katie McCabe during a team walk in Tbilisi ahead of their FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier match against Georgia at Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Grace Moloney, left, and Katie McCabe during a team walk in Tbilisi ahead of their FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier match against Georgia at Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Grace Moloney, left, and Katie McCabe during a team walk in Tbilisi ahead of their FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier match against Georgia at Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There were 60,000 people on the streets of Georgian capital Tbilisi this week demonstrating for the right of their country to join the European Union.

These are fraught times for a nation whose leadership teeters on the brink of appeasement to the Russian nation that violently seized one-fifth of their land in a brutally deadly offensive 14 years ago.

Gori, 40 miles north of the capital, where the hosts welcome Ireland for this evening’s World Cup qualifier, was the first city to be bombed in 2008; a grim irony, for this is the birthplace of Josef Stalin, the former Russian leader who was at times reviled and revered.

The Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori is an oddity, therefore, but it does have some lustre.

Chelsea and England star Mason Mount was on the winning U-19s side who claimed the European Championships when they were held here in 2017.

But as much as the Georgians hanker for European political acknowledgment, their attempts to move closer to the wider European family remain a distant prospect, especially at the elite level of women’s football.

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Ready to rumble: Diane Caldwell, left, and Abbie Larkin during Republic of Ireland women training session at David Abashidze Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ready to rumble: Diane Caldwell, left, and Abbie Larkin during Republic of Ireland women training session at David Abashidze Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ready to rumble: Diane Caldwell, left, and Abbie Larkin during Republic of Ireland women training session at David Abashidze Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Barely a couple of hundred are expected to brave the intermittent thunder storms here; given they lost 15-0 the last time they played here, perhaps that is not unexpected.

That there will be minimal away support too may, perhaps, render the circumstances rather surreal but the tantalising prospect of a global showpiece, a 2023 World Cup which may be the biggest female sports event yet, is quite real indeed.

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Two more wins will suffice to ensure Vera Pauw’s side move on to a play-off series later in the year; the first of them is guaranteed, with not even the ceaseless caution from the Irish camp likely to upset the inevitable success.

It may not match their record haul from Tallaght earlier this year but the primary aim is to emerge unscathed from the exercise.

Already understrength in Dublin due to Covid withdrawals, the Georgians effected a physical presence and not much else and had already lost a player injured in a tackle before half-time, while also withdrawing another who was destined to receive a second yellow card.

Irish caution is also a historic necessity; familiar implosion in the last campaign inures them against complacency because they have not yet proven they can last the qualification pace.

Hence, the inordinate investment in a 10-day training camp for a 27-strong squad who have received the minutest scientific assessment on what has effectively been a condensed pre-season campaign, complicated by the fact that some players haven’t played in a month while some are in the middle of congested domestic campaigns.

And the manager’s pinpoint precision will ensure that her side approach this game in the same manner as they did their stunning heist in securing a draw in Sweden against the second best team in the world.

“If players jump on their own game-plan,” she warns, “doing things in the moment, going for the dribble when players expect passes, that is the moment when you lose control.

“If we keep the game-plan, I am absolutely sure we create chances and that is the moment that individuals need to convert.

“People thought we would collapse under pressure in Sweden but nobody did because they were absolutely clear what was expected of them.”

Jess Ziu said something similar before training yesterday, the new West Ham signing conceding she is allowed a licence to roam but the whole side have been tasked to ensuring there is always defensive cover.

Individual invention is encouraged, but only within a team’s solid structure.

“Of course,” she tells me of the team’s overt cautious optimism.

“It shows why she got us in early to play together, she didn’t take anything for granted.

“They were missing players and there was a storm in Tallaght.

“Now we’re on their turf with the heat. It will be an interesting one but hopefully we can get our heads down and score a few, keep a clean sheet.”

Complacency is their enemy, jousting with a welcome new friend, confidence; careful vigilance a constant counsel.

“The fact that the FAI have used the November window and that money to be able to be here and then get a charter, with the prices going up you can imagine what that means, to control everything we can is because we are aware how difficult this game can be,” adds Pauw.

“We could have easily stayed at home and thought after 11-0 we can win this,” she continued.

“Even Sweden only won 4-0 and Finland 3-0, equally those games might have goals that don’t happen, like our Ukraine game.

“That is a scenario we don’t want to happen but we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

Patience and inherent creativity within a confident system will ensure it does not.

Georgia v Ireland, live RTE2 (kick-off 5pm)


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