Roche to rejoin Ireland squad for vital Montenegro test
Victory in Budva would go a long way to securing a second-place finish in the group
Vera Pauw celebrates with Katie McCabe following the 1-0 victory over Greece at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Stephanie Roche will join up with the Ireland squad ahead of today’s flight to Montenegro where another win would send Vera Pauw’s side to the top of their European Championship qualifying group with three games to go . . .the downside being that they are likely to prove to be the team’s three toughest games of the campaign.
For the moment, there is considerable satisfaction around the camp that second place seems to be well within the side’s grasp.
The three points secured on Thursday night leave Pauw’s side six points clear of Greece whose chances of challenging for qualification seem to be gone now and a win next Wednesday would leave second seeds Ukraine, who Ireland travel to in June, having to win all five of their remaining matches in order to secure a top-two finish.
As things stand right now, Ireland are also second in the table of second-placed teams, something that would secure them automatic qualification if they could stay there. But, unlike many of their rivals, they still have both games against their group’s top seeds (Germany) to come – the first of them away from home next month.
“I suppose the Germany game is going to be a big one for us,” says Irish skipper Katie McCabe. “They’re top seeds, they’ve dominated European and world football for years now. We’ve shown what we can do against the big nations in previous years – obviously the famous result against the Netherlands. But look, I’m not going to get too far ahead and look at the Germans, it won’t mean anything if we don’t beat Montenegro.”
Pauw’s side showed enough in Tallaght to suggest they will although scoring the goals required to make games safe during the spells when they are dominant, the coach accepted afterwards, remains a significant issue.
It leaves Ireland facing opponents who only have to produce one good moment to salvage something from games – as the Greeks demonstrated in Athens and as they nearly did again on a couple of occasions the other night.
McCabe believes the team is improving under the new manager, however, and that they have the potential to put opponents more effectively away; something she hopes they will start to do in the Adriatic coastal resort of Budva in the middle of next week.
The history of games between the two sides is certainly encouraging with Ireland having scored 16 times without replay in three meetings, although there was only two goals in it when they last met in Tallaght in September.
“I think I’d be worried if we weren’t creating the chances,” insists McCabe. “But we’ve found ourselves in really good positions in front of goal. If we weren’t creating them, then that would be a worry. But we’re getting in the right spaces and the right areas in the final third and if we had a bit of luck we’d have a few more. We’re definitely getting in those right areas.”
Perhaps a little too much so, suggests Pauw, who argued that the determination of Ireland’s more creative players the other night to work their way into a densely packed penalty area played into their opponents’ hands at times.
“We were sometimes too close to Rianna [Jarrett],” she says.
“With Denise [O’Sullivan], Ruesha [Littlejohn] and Katie coming in, there were too many many people getting close. At half-time I said to the players: ‘We are Ireland. We are not Spain. Our style of play is more direct so don’t lose your opportunity. Don’t lose your fight towards the goal’, because we were losing it in those small spaces where we were trying to get through and we were doing well but our strength is the power in our game. You need to play to your strengths.”