Irish World Cup dream still alive after victory

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Republic of Ireland players clebrate Julie Ann Russell's goal against SloveniaPhoto Credit: Jason O’Callaghan

The Republic of Ireland Women’s slim chances of making next year’s World Cup are still intact after a solid win against a tricky Slovenia side, who, bottom of the table, were playing for pride in this Group 1 fixture.

The Irish got off to the perfect start when a late tackle on Denise O’Sullivan, just two minutes into the game, set up a free kick for Julie Ann Russell. The midfielder slotted the ball into the top right hand corner from then resulting 35-yard free kick. The Irish proceeded to dominate for the first quarter and let good chances go to waste as both Denise and Fiona O’Sullivan had shots blocked by the Slovenian defence.

Russell showed the crowd what women footballers are made of early in the game. After her stunning free kick, the UCD Waves midfielder took, what looked like, a devastating blast from the ball to the face from point blank range. However, the 23 year old got up and after a check over by the physio, was back on the pitch.

Slovenian captain, Mateja Zver led her team by example. The midfielder looked dangerous at times as she paced down the right wing. She made numerous crosses into the Irish box but there were no Slovenian players to meet them

However, the Slovenian’s best chance in the first half came in the 40th minute when Kaja Erzen headed Andreja Nikl’s cross down towards the goal. However, the forward couldn’t get it on the target and it went well wide of Emma Byrne’s goal

When the teams came back onto the pitch after half time, it was the away side who started the off better. Erzen made numerous attempts on goal in the first 10 minutes of the second period and was unlucky to find the equaliser. One attempt saw the forward beat Byrne; hit the post with the rebounding ball bouncing off Byrne’s back. Fortunately for the Irish captain, she caught the ball and her blushes were saved.

The Arsenal keeper was again spared embarrassment when Zver’s long-range effort crashed off the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. Ireland started to lack concentration and Slovenia pushed forward in an effort to bring the game all square.

Ireland had other plans though, with just less than 15 minutes left in the game, Aine O’Gorman managed to get her cross to Fiona O’Sullivan. The SC Frieburg forward chested the ball and just caught it on the volley. The ball crept past the goalkeeper, Lucija Mori and nestled into the bottom corner of the net.

Ireland sprang back into life after the goal and minus a couple of attempts by the visitors; the win and a crucial three points were Ireland’s. The win pleased the, close to, 1,500 spectators that turned up to Tallaght Stadium, which included FAI supremo, John Delaney and Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill.

Speaking after the game, Ireland boss Sue Ronan said; “We went into this game full of confidence and we started off confident and got an early goal, which should have settled us down. We played well for 30 minutes and should have got a second goal, which would have disheartened them (Slovenia). We started to get nervy and sloppy and they sensed they could get something. We agreed at half time that the tempo needed to be lifted and move faster. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. They got a bit confident and had a good couple of chances. So it was a relief when we got a good, decent cross in and Fiona (O’Sullivan) took her goal well.

The Irish manager suggested that previous results were down to the fact that most of her players are out of season and not in full fitness. “I think one of the problems we had was that are home based girls are only coming into their season now and done a lot of pre-season work, so there is some fatigue there too. Hopefully, in another three weeks they’ll have some more games and gel and match the girls who play abroad in terms in fitness, “ said Ronan.

Speaking about her plans for the future, Ronan is looking to integrate members of the U19 and give them “some experience” and had some of the members training with the team last week. She feels there is a good mix of youth and seasoned veterans in the squad.

With two important away trips next September, the final qualifiers against Slovakia and Germany respectively, Ronan and her team will be aware that tonight’s win is a building block to those trips. However, she will be happy with the recent displays by the side, and should Russia slip up in the remaining games, Canada could be a reality rather than a fantasy.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Byrne (C), Fahey, Quinn, Gorman (Littlejohn 46), Caldwell, F.O’Sullivan, D.O’Sullivan (Smyth 66), Russell, O’Gorman, Duggan, Roche (Killeen 59).
Substitutes: Reid-Burke, Perry, De Burca, Grant.

Goals: Russell 2’, F.O’Sullivan 76’

SLOVENIA: Mori, Jerina (Ketis 76), Grad, Rola, Nikl, Zver (C), Kos, Marolt (Kralj 51), Erzen, Zganec, Tibaut.
Substitutes: Vamberger, Sevsek, Erman, Rogan, Siljak.

Yellow Cards: Marolt 21’, Zganec 43’

Referee: Linn Anderson (Sweden)

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