Ireland face testing evening in Tallaght as Sweden come to town

Vera Pauw’s side face the second best team in the world in their campaign opener

Katie McCabe is looking to bring her fine club form with Arsenal through to Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Katie McCabe is looking to bring her fine club form with Arsenal through to Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

 

Women’s World Cup qualifier: Republic of Ireland v Sweden, Tallaght stadium, Thursday, 7pm – Live RTÉ2

This is not the test. This is Katie McCabe’s improving team manning the barricades against an invading football nation so advanced in comparison that it is like encountering extra-terrestrial life.

“Football in Sweden has always been the biggest sport,” explained manager Peter Gerhardsson. “Then you have ice hockey and Olympic handball. In Ireland you have Gaelic . . . what do you call it?”

Gaelic football.

“Yeh! And something else [mimics holding a two-handed scimitar].”

Hurling?

“Yeh! I’ve seen it. Wow.”

It’s where our ice hockey players go.

“That is why we always had many football players in Sweden,” said Gerhardsson. “Male and female. It is starting with a round ball and kids can say ‘yeah I want to do that’ because they have idols that they can see. If you don’t have that . . . ”

A draw, never mind win, would be a seismic achievement. You know this to be the case when the Olympic silver medallists can only repeat the name of the one Irish player that is mentioned while still endeavouring to show respect.

“I’ve played against a couple of them in the WSL,” said Chelsea’s Magdalena Eriksson. “McCabe is in the form of her life from what I’ve seen. She is doing an incredibly good job for Arsenal, where she is very influential.

“She is very influential in this Ireland team as well. We will have to look out for her but also look out for other players that we know have qualities.”

McCabe will start on the left, which will probably have more to do with defending than attacking, but it will be crucial that both wing backs get high up the pitch.

“Sweden will push us back,” said Ireland manager Vera Pauw.

Sweden’s Magdalena Eriksson in action for Chelsea. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire
Sweden’s Magdalena Eriksson in action for Chelsea. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire

The Swedes firmly expect to continue an unbeaten run, not including the crushing penalty shoot-out loss to Canada in Tokyo, spanning 19 matches and the entire pandemic. Qualification for the 2023 World Cup already looks certain despite unimpressive wins over Slovakia (1-0) and Georgia (4-0).

Injuries to skipper Caroline Seger and Real Madrid striker Kosovare Asllani – who have combined for 70 goals in 377 caps – has barely impacted upon preparations due to the rise of Everton’s teenage sensation Hanna Bennison and Barcelona’s Fridolina Rolfö.

The real test is how Ireland cope and then recovers ahead of a trip to Finland on Tuesday. Two defeats would put manager Pauw and the theory of “football periodisation” under all sorts of new pressure.

“It’s fantastic to play high opposition,” she said, “we love it. We have a team with no fear of failure but we are realistic where we stand. We are 33 on the ranking list, Sweden are second. It will be like playing Germany or USA, they are part of that little group.”

The Dutch woman’s methods, specifically sought by FAI director of performance Ruud Dokter, are not under scrutiny after last month’s 3-2 victory over Australia snapped a seven-game losing streak. That result revealed a team driven by three core veterans in McCabe, Denise O’Sullivan and Louise Quinn, with intelligent support from Heather Payne and Lucy Quinn, but it also exposed a fragility at goalkeeper.

Reading’s Grace Moloney is expected to start ahead of Courtney Brosnan on a night where Bazunuesque heroics will be essential. Sweden took 44 shots against Georgia.

Leanne Kiernan’s goalscoring start to Liverpool’s season might prompt another change in the starting XI but the Cavan native’s pace could prove just as valuable off the bench.

Because this is not the test. That comes when Ireland need to win in Helsinki.

The real pity is some genius decided to lift restrictions on fans in stadiums the day after a major soccer international with 4,000 tickets not catering for the growing demand. A switch to the Aviva stadium would have been special, even if Tallaght has become home to this Ireland team.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (possible): Moloney; O’Gorman, Fahey, Louise Quinn, McCarthy, McCabe; Finn, O’Sullivan, Connolly; Payne, Lucy Quinn.

SWEDEN (possible): Lindahl; Glas, Ilestedt, Eriksson, Andersson; Angeldahl, Rolfö, Bennison; Jakobsson, Blackstenius, Hurtig.

Referee: Deborah Anex (Switzerland).

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