Stephanie Roche’s late strike keeps Ireland’s World Cup hopes alive

Sue Ronan’s side beat Slovakia thanks to 92nd-minute winner from winger

Stephanie Roche’s 92nd-minute winner secured the Republic of Ireland a valuable three points in Slovakia to keep them in contention for a World Cup play-off spot.Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Stephanie Roche’s 92nd-minute winner secured the Republic of Ireland a valuable three points in Slovakia to keep them in contention for a World Cup play-off spot.Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Slovakia 0 Republic of Ireland 1

Stephanie Roche’s 92nd-minute winner secured the Republic of Ireland a valuable three points in Slovakia to keep them in contention for a World Cup play-off spot.

Sue Ronan’s Girls in Green has been denied three times by the crossbar in the penultimate tie of the campaign they dominated but substitute Roche pounced in stoppage time.

Today’s victory for Ireland at the Senek Arena, coupled with Russia’s 4-1 defeat by leaders Germany, reduces the gap between the Irish and second-placed Russia to a mere two points.

Ireland must now pull off a shock in Heidenheim on Wednesday by beating the Germans, already guaranteed their place in next year’s Canada-hosted finals, and count on Croatia at least drawing with the Russians in the final series of Group One matches to claim second place and a possible play-off.

With second-from-bottom Slovakia seemingly content to play for a draw, Ireland’s main chances in the must-win tie came from distance.

Firstly, after only five minutes, Julie Ann Russell cut inside onto Karen Duggan’s throw-in and saw her thunderous shot from 25 yards beat goalkeeper Maria Korenciova but not the crossbar.

Ruesha Littlejohn was next to threaten, her shot from an acute angle turned around the post by the goalkeeper, before O’Sullivan suffered the same fate as Russell by having the woodwork thwart her superb 18th-minute effort.

Although Ireland held the upper hand on the possession stakes in the opening half hour, they were almost caught on the counter attack. Dana Feckova was allowed ghost in from right undetected and, despite skipping past Emma Byrne in the Ireland goal, her low shot was hacked off the line by Louise Quinn. From the resultant corner, Byrne was afforded a let-off as her flapped clearance was smashed wide from 10 yards by captain Matysova.

That threat from the right addressed, the Irish defence solidified after the break to keep their fourth straight clean sheet of the campaign.

A sharper edge at the other end would certainly have made things easier as chance after chance came and went with the clock ticking down.

On 57 minutes, Russell once again had the measure of the goalkeeper from a long free-kick, yet the same obstacle prevented her from opening the scoring. O’Sullivan was swift in connecting with the rebound only for Korenciova to stoop low and save.

Roche, on as an interval substitute, blazed over a decent chance with 15 minutes left while Quinn twice brought the best out of the hosts’ stopper from headers.

In a bid to keep their interest in the campaign alive, Fiona O’Sullivan replaced her namesake in the Irish attack for the final 10 minutes.

Rather than from a hopeful long-ball, however, the breakthrough arrived from a patient build-up that began with left back Karen Duggan switching the play infield and eventually into the path of Roche.

The French-based winger steadied herself 16 yards out before tucking her sixth goal in just 33 internationals low into the opposite corner.

SLOVAKIA: Korenciova; Harsanyova, Matysova, Biroova, Vojtekova; Ondrusova, Fatulova (Klechkova, 52 mins); Feckova, Suskova, Bartovicova; Cerovska (Kolenova, 75 mins).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Byrne; O’Gorman, Quinn, Fahey (Campbell, 72 mins), Duggan; Gorman, Smyth; Killeen (Roche, 46 mins), D O’Sullivan (F O’Sullivan, 80mins), Russell; Littlejohn.

Referee: S Ghisletta (SUI)

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