Victory essential in Athens if Ireland are to consolidate second spot
Denise O’Sullivan confident Ireland are good enough to get vital victory in Athens
Denise O’Sullivan: North Carolina Courage star could prove a vital creative presence for the Republic of Ireland in the Euro qualifier away to against Greece. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Euro 2021 women’s qualifier: Greece v Republic of Ireland, Nea Smyrni Stadium, Panionios, Tuesday, 1pm Irish time - Live on RTÉ2
In a country famed for its tragedy, the Republic of Ireland need to avoid any blemishes against Greece to remain on track for an automatic route to the 2021 European Championship finals.
Vera Pauw, the Dutchwoman appointed as Ireland manager in September, was doing her best to downplay the potential consequence of dropping points in Athens, yet the chase for the three best runners-up qualification tickets is already well underway.
It says something of heightened expectations levels that Ireland could crib about settling for the fallback option into one of the three play-offs but seasoned campaigner Pauw has consistently highlighted the risk of meeting a superpower at that juncture.
Firstly, Ireland have to consolidate second spot. Back-to-back wins over Montenegro and Ukraine have afforded them that position to lose, especially given the latter were categorised as second seeds in the draw.
Second is the name of the game here, considering eight-times champions Germany have shown no signs of conceding a goal, never mind dropping a point, in the campaign.
While her captain Katie McCabe had been talking up the ambition of challenging for top spot when flanking caretaker boss Tom O’Connor, such soundbites have been replaced by pragmatism under Pauw’s watch.
Ireland will have faced the two bottom seeds, Greece and Montenegro, by the time they visit Germany in April and six points is a must to, in the first instance, deny Ukraine a way back and, moreover, vie for one of those cherished direct qualification berths.
“Greece are below us in the seedings, so we really need the three points,” says Ireland’s most in-form player Denise O’Sullivan. “I have every bit of confidence in this team to go out and get the win.”
O’Sullivan, based in America with champions North Carolina Courage and now on loan with Australian outfit West Sydney Wanderers, will be crucial to Ireland’s tactics today.
Unlike her holding role at club level, the Cork native acts as the link between midfield and attack for Ireland.
“Even as the home team, Greece will sit deep, wanting us to break them down,” she noted.
Pauw is without Heather Payne, Megan Campbell and Megan Connolly, meaning Chloe Mustaki and Leanne Kiernan should start.
Talk among the locals is that Greece view Ireland as a scalp. Positioned 66th in the Fifa rankings, compared to Ireland’s 32, they still bettered Ireland’s winning margin in the win over Montenegro.
More significantly, however, was restricting the Germans to a 5-0 win, a result Ireland will probably tolerate against them in the grand scheme of the normal hierarchy within Group One.
REP OF IRELAND (probable): M Hourihan; K Keenan, L Quinn, D Caldwell, C Mustaki; T Toland, N Fahey; L Kiernan, D O’Sullivan, K McCabe; R Jarrett.