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Own goal and missed penalty cost Ireland as Euro hopes suffer major blow in Kiev

Ukraine 1 Ireland 0

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Ruesha Littlejohn of Republic of Ireland reacts at the full-time whistle, as Ukraine players celebrate, following the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Qualifier match at the Obolon Arena in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ruesha Littlejohn of Republic of Ireland reacts at the full-time whistle, as Ukraine players celebrate, following the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Qualifier match at the Obolon Arena in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ruesha Littlejohn of Republic of Ireland reacts at the full-time whistle, as Ukraine players celebrate, following the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Qualifier match at the Obolon Arena in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

ONE line summed up a year’s work. “We felt we left it here,” muttered coach Vera Pauw as she departed a virtual interview area to seek solitude amongst her regrets.

They will be many.

A year after defeating the same opposition to kick-start her managerial reign, a vengeful victory for a rugged, often artless home side means Ireland’s chances of qualifying for the European Championships in 2022 lie in tatters.

And worse, as much as they suffered a slow, deliberate demise last evening, the trauma may have to be dragged out for some weeks yet. Free-scoring Germany have still to visit Dublin.

Mathematically, Ireland are not done for. For there are many permutations which still might earn them a play-off spot.

Almost the same number, indeed, as the many ways in which they managed to mess up last night’s gilt-edged opportunity to copper-fasten their obvious superiority to all but the runaway leaders in Group I.

And so Ireland now need help from others in their quest to qualify for a major tournament for the first time.

This was not the first self-inflicted wound in the campaign; a last-minute concession in Greece had afforded the side no wriggle room.

Now they must hope the Greeks can bear a gift in return.

“Greece can only take the points if they have a good day or Ukraine have a day like us tonight when the goals don’t go in,” mused a disconsolate Pauw.

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It is debatable whether they deserve favours from anyone else after doing none for themselves in Kiev.

Ireland dominated the 90 minutes against their sole rivals for a play-off spot but, on an evening when they had one of their best chances to take a giant leap forward, missed chances will haunt their waking nightmares in the weeks to come.

In all, they had 13 attempts on goal but only rarely did they threaten to expose a goalkeeper forced into an unscheduled second start after a Covid-19 scare disrupted the home side’s preparations.

Catastrophic

And so in a week when Ireland repeatedly declared their commitment to avoiding yet another sorry tale of woe, a catastrophic own goal did more to drag them into their dismal past than propel them into a deserved new dawn.

Katie McCabe’s wasteful penalty compounded matters still further; still, with an hour‘s football remaining, Ireland had plenty of time with which to clamber out from the hole they had dug for themselves.

Time to call a spade a spade; this was not about a lack of luck but a dearth of calm composure and clinical execution under pressure.

Aside from the penalty miss, Ireland had plenty of chances to not merely claim the single point they required, but all three.

Nothing the players or coach said after the game seemed to deviate from this view; as much as they dutifully now plan to get something from the game against a Germany side who have yet to concede a goal in the group, they know they messed this one up.

It is difficult to know if the pressure gripped them, if a week of expounding so eloquently on the magnitude of this occasion, and how it might erase the ghosts of memories past, somehow clouded their collective effort here.

Notwithstanding this, they were the better team and had the best players, from the impish creators McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan, to the constantly probing Heather Payne, but the thread of the team performance too often unspooled at precisely the wrong moment.

The own goal may have been cataclysmic, when Courtney Brosnan’s hapless attempt to respond to Áine O’Gorman’s robust backpass intervention ultimately served to make the goalkeeper take no decisive action at all.

But it should not have defined the night, nor McCabe’s almost immediate opportunity to respond, one she so wastefully caromed off the woodwork after O’Sullivan was taken down in the box. “I should be finishing that, for sure,” she said, honestly and correctly.

Ireland were panicked when patience was required, and unmoved when urgency was needed; they played better when departing from script and when change was required from the sideline, it can be argued vehemently that the late substitutions were almost academic.

“We ended up with too many long balls,” lamented coach Pauw of the obvious plan to stretch the vulnerable home full-backs, against whom Ireland were able to run ragged; prompting one replacement full-back to be herself subbed off in the second half.

“Some of them worked in the first half. But in the second half, every ball was put in high and it came a bit frantic so you’re only hoping it falls on the right foot.

“There was no player who was exhausted really so the changes were just for the final scenario. If we did it earlier, we might not have kept up the pressure and we may have conceded a second goal.”

Pauw’s reasoning on retaining faith in a starting XI who hadn’t scored seemed at odds; maybe she had a lack of faith in the bench. Whatever happened, her failure to act added to the night’s sense of collective trauma.

Recovering from this one might take some time.

Ukraine – Sanina; Filenko, Kravets, Pantsulaya (Voronina h-t (Petrik 70)), Shmatko; Boychenko (Malaykhova 90), Andruschchak, Khmich, Kozlova (Ganna 90); Apnaschenko; Kalnina (Kunina h-t).

Ireland – Brosnan; Scott (Molloy 86), Quinn, Caldwell, O’Gorman; Payne, Connolly, Littlejohn, O’Sullivan, McCabe; Jarrett (Barrett 86).

Ref – I Martinčić (Croatia)


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