Republic of Ireland 1 Greece 0
Ireland took another important step towards securing a second-place finish and a place in the playoffs by beating Greece at Tallaght where Diane Caldwell scored the goal that separated the two sides just before the break.
The win sends Vera Pauw’s side six points clear of their nearest rivals and puts 10 between them and second seeds Ukraine who, unlike Ireland, have already played Germany twice.
The win here was not, perhaps, as convincing as it might have been but it was a solid performance that included a confident finish and the home side deserved the three points.
“We know the Greeks and how difficult they are to play against,” said Pauw afterwards. “We should have scored more but they are very compact and always seem to have a player there who gets a toe to the ball at the vital moment. The good thing, though, is that we have left them behind in the group.
"And I don't see Ukraine taking all of the points from their games. But we will see. I am just pleased with the way the game has gone tonight," said Pauw, although she lost Heather Payne to a hamstring injury that will keep her out of the Montenegro next week and Chloe Mustaki is sidelined too after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in training. Stephanie Roche has been drafted in for the game.
Asked if she was relieved to see her players close the game out after the way they had conceded so late on in Athens, Pauw said: “I’m too proud of my players to say I am relieved” she insisted. “It’s been a battle and we deserved to win . . . but maybe there was a little relief too at the end,” she concluded.
Her team had started brightly, dominating opponents in open play whose plan was clearly to defend deep and in numbers while waiting for opportunities to allow a three-strong frontline hit their hosts on the break.
In the earliest stages, it didn’t really look as though they were well enough equipped to pull it off and Ireland might well have made more of the possession they enjoyed in the final third of the pitch.
A close-range Denise O’Sullivan shot aside, though, they didn’t actually manage to test the Greek goalkeeper and, for a while, the visitors seemed to settle fairly nicely into things, smothering Ireland’s attacking moves by sheer weight of numbers while going close themselves to opening the scoring from a corner.
That immediately gave rise to one of the home side's more promising breaks of the first half but it ran out of steam almost as soon as O'Sullivan had stopped driving forward herself. When it came, Ireland's goal was from the most straightforward of set pieces with Aine O'Gorman picking out Louise Quinn with an angled free from a good way out and the Arsenal defender getting above Eleni Markou to turn the ball back across the face of the goal and allow Caldwell the easiest of tap ins.
That was on the stroke of half-time and 10 minutes after the break Ireland should have made the game safe. Ruesha Littlejohn, who generally occupied the central space between the Greek defence and midfield, broke clear in the area on the right and though her first shot was straight at the goalkeeper, it was the follow-up she should really have put away. The attempt, though, flew wide.
She did much better 20 minutes after that when Julie-Anne Russell put her away and she cut inside before shooting but the second goal wouldn’t quite come which, after what had happened in Athens, was clearly worrying.
The introduction by the visitors of Sheffield United’s Veatriki Sarri didn’t do much for the nerves with the substitute promptly teeing up Despoina Chatzinikolaou, who miscued badly, before going close from distance herself.
At that stage it didn’t seem at all convincing but the Irish actually saw the game out rather well after that and there were no late slip-ups.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Hourihan (Braga); Scott (Birmingham City), Caldwell (Sand), Quinn (Arsenal), O'Gorman (Peamount Utd); O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Fahey (Liverpool); Payne (Florida State), Littlejohn (West Ham), McCabe (Arsenal); Jarrett (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Subs: Russell (Sydney University) for Payne (63 mins), Barrett (Cologne) for Jarrett (72 mins), Shine (Glasgow City) for Littlejohn (85 mins).
GREECE: Papakonstantinou; Gkatsou, Chatszigianndou, Sidira, Chatzinikolaou, Kynossidou; Markou, Kakambouki; Moraitou, Kokoviadou, Kongouli.
Subs: Vardali for Moraitou and Sarri for Kongouli (both 66 mins), Spyridonidou for Kynossidou (83 mins).
Referee: M Madrona (Spain).