Vera Pauw believes Ireland in with a shout of automatic qualification for Euro 2021
Manager admits damage limitation is vital against Germany but opportunities exist elsewhere
Ireland’s Rianna Jarrett celebrates scoring her side’s second goal during the Uefa Women’s European Championship qualifier against the Ukraine at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Republic of Ireland women’s coach Vera Pauw will head to Athens next week to assess the facilities to be used by her squad for next month’s qualifying game against Greece, with the Dutch woman saying she doesn’t “want any surprises” on the next leg of her team’s bid to qualify for Euro 2021.
Ireland are well on course with two wins from two but they suffered something of a shock late on in Tuesday’s game when the group’s second seeds, Ukraine, came back from two goals down.
Crucially, Ireland went on to take all three points and having shown the character to regroup after the break and get their winner, Pauw believes they are potentially in with a very serious shout of taking one of the automatic qualifying slots reserved for the best three of nine group runners-up.
“The group is built in such a way,” she says, “that if we beat Greece and Montenegro . . . then it comes back to the away game against Ukraine [next June]. It could be that with even one point, you mightn’t have to play the playoffs and, by then, we will know much better what exactly we will need to do.
“Against Germany,” she adds rather starkly, however, “we need to keep the score down.”
It is striking to hear a manager concede that top spot is effectively a one-horse race so early in the campaign, but the results so far point to complete dominance of this group by the twice world champions. At this stage, Freiburg striker Klara Bühl has almost as many goals as the other four teams put together, and her side have scored 31 in just four outings.
Goals may well prove to be an issue for Ireland, who at this early point in the proceedings stand seventh in the rankings of the second-placed sides. But the performance of Wexford Youths striker Rianna Jarrett on Tuesday, when she got her first international goal, will have provided considerable encouragement to a manager who believes her players are capable of a great deal more.
“It is such a talented group,” she says. “I don’t know where the ceiling is for these players, but I do know that they are a long way from reaching it. The main thing is to keep the composure when the pressure is up because this time we were losing it,” she says in reference to the two major errors that led to Ukraine’s goals in Tallaght as well as the heavy reliance, late on, on long clearances. “When we are under pressure, we have to take control of the ball and the game instead of just kicking it forward.”
Asked specifically about Jarrett, who got a goal and two assists over the course of the night, she admits to having been surprised, but in the most pleasant of ways.
“We didn’t know Rianna was capable of this. We believed in her, we trusted her, but we talked to her and she didn’t know that she could do this herself.”
Tyler Toland, she suggests, had been omitted at least in part because she was below her best, something Pauw intends talking to Manchester City about. She laments the fact that she is unlikely to have a spring tournament at which to work on the technical and tactical side of things with the squad before the second of back-to-back games against the Greeks, on March 6th.
She is more certain in the belief that Ireland can qualify, having seen them play with discipline, then fight to defend a lead like no other she had ever witnessed. “We were there to win and when we were 3-2 up, it was only over our dead bodies that the ball was going to go in.”
That resolve may prove especially valuable in the two games against the group leaders but, she insists, Ireland’s fate will be decided by those two against the Greeks and the trip to Ukraine next June.
IRELAND’S REMAINING GROUP GAMES
Tuesday, November 12th: v Greece (a)
Friday, March 6th, 2020: v Greece (h)
Wednesday, March 11th: v Montenegro (a) Saturday, April 11th: v Germany (a)
Friday, June 5th: v Ukraine (a)
Tuesday, September 22nd: v Germany (h)