The Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team will complete their World Cup qualifying campaign this evening in Heidenheim when they face Group 1 winners Germany.
The Germans captured the group, and a place in next summer’s World Cup finals in Canada, with a 4-1 on Saturday over Russia in Moscow, a result that slightly opens the door for Ireland to finish in second place.
For that to happen Ireland need to beat Germany, a result that would send shockwaves around the football world, and improving Croatia need to beat Russia as a draw would be good enough for the Russians to pip the Irish for runners-up spot based on the head to head.
But, while Ireland can come second, they cannot reach the play-offs. Only four teams will play-off for the right to join the seven group winners at the World Cup finals and this will be decided on the results of the second placed teams against the sides in their group finishing in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th places. The two points Ireland dropped in drawing 1-1 away to Croatia have come back to haunt them as the sixth seeds in Group 1 will finish the group in fourth place.
As World No.2 and European champions, Germany don’t lose many competitive games and are currently on a run of 12 straight competitive wins since their 1-0 defeat by Norway in their final group game of Euro ’13. The big motivation for Silvia Neid and her team today is make it 10 wins from 10 games in the group, a feat denied to them in qualifying for Euro ’13 when Spain held them to a draw.
With 17 points from nine games Sue Ronan’s side have already gathered their best haul in a World Cup qualifying campaign, easily surpassing the 13 accumulated in the 2011 campaign. They have also kept an impressive six clean-sheets and come into this game without conceding a goal in last 407 minutes of action.
Today’s game will bring back memories of last April in Tallaght when Ireland almost recorded their greatest ever result in Women’s football. They eventually lost 3-2 to a fluke goal in injury time having led 1-0 for over an hour and bounced back to equalise in the 88th minute after Germany had gone 2-1 in front.
After their win on Saturday in Slovakia, the squad flew to Germany on Sunday and have spent the week preparing for today’s game on the banks of Danube in Ulm. Raheny United winger Siobhan Killeen has been ruled out because of concussion and will be replaced in squad by clubmate Rachel Graham while Niamh Fahey will undergo a late fitness on the knee injury she picked up on Saturday.
Sue Ronan won’t name her team until just before the game but, no matter what happens today in Heidenheim, the squad can look back on a job well done and look forward to the Euro 2017 with a lot more optimism.
A live stream of today’s match can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/ZpnbrD
A video interview with Áine O’Gorman can be viewed here: http://www.fai.ie/ireland/news/video-%C3%A1ine-ogorman
SQUAD: Goalkeepers: Emma Byrne (Arsenal), Niamh Reid-Burke (Raheny United). Defenders: Áine O’Gorman (UCD Waves), Sophie Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), Meabh de Burca (Galway WFC), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Niamh Fahey (Arsenal), Karen Duggan (UCD Waves), Megan Campbell (Florida State University). Midfielders: Julie Ann Russell (UCD Waves), Rachel Graham (Raheny United), Dora Gorman (UCD Waves), Ciara Grant (UCD Waves), Shannon Smyth (Amazon Grimstad). Forwards: Fiona O’Sullivan (Notts County), Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City), Stephanie Roche (ASPTT Albi), Ruesha Littlejohn (Sandviken).