‘As long as we’re improving and every time, making a step up, then we’re on the right path’

“WE ARE IMPROVING”: The main message from Republic of Ireland boss Vera Pauw after back-to-back international friendly defeats at the hands of Iceland.

That makes it seven-in-a-row, the Girls In Green’s last win coming against Montenegro in March 2020, though it must be noted that recent outings have come against much higher-ranked opposition.

Ireland are ranked 34th in the world, and have never qualified for a major tournament despite falling agonisingly short of late. Looking at recent opponents and results, Iceland are 17th (2-0 and 3-2 in friendlies), Denmark 16th (1-0 friendly), Belgium 18th (1-0 friendly), Germany second (3-0 and 3-1 in Euro qualifying), and Ukraine 31st (1-0 in Euro qualifying).

Sweden and Finland, the top two seeds in Ireland’s 2023 World Cup qualifying group, are ranked fifth and 24th respectively, so the focus through preparations have been playing “high-calibre opposition,” as Pauw has stressed so many times before.

  • Ireland beaten by Iceland for the second time in four days

“Even though we have now the seventh loss behind us,” she said after last night’s 2-0 loss in Reykjavík “We knew that that could happen.

“But if you look back to playing Germany, then playing Denmark, playing Belgium, playing Iceland two times, it is every time getting better. That must support the players that we are [going] in the right way, but we do have to work really, really hard.

While last night’s result was a heavier one than Friday’s 3-2, Ireland performed better. 

With a tweak in formation and some changes in personnel — Courtney Brosnan started in goal ahead of Grace Moloney, with Claire O’Riordan, Éabha O’Mahony and Amber Barrett in for Niamh Fahey, Niamh Farrelly and Aoife Colvill — they produced a far more solid first-half showing, improving on last week’s disastrous opening 45 in which they conceded three goals.

In the second half, though, Ireland tired and both goals — scored by Berglind Björg Þorvaldsdóttir and Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdótti — were ultimately preventable from a defensive viewpoint.

Pauw was pleased with the better start, and tried to take the positives as she dissected the game afterwards:

“But you cannot keep going like that. We don’t have the strength and the stamina to keep to keep going. The games were very, very effective for us to know what we need to work on. We have a few months. That is straightforward.

“So I would like to take the positives out of it, in the sense that we played against an opposition that is right in between Denmark and Belgium, in a way that we could even dominate. We have to get to those individual mistakes out. We need to be able to play 90 minutes without those mistakes, because that cost us again.”

Ireland’s Megan Connolly with Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir of Iceland.

Source: Kristinn Magnusson/INPHO

“We were struggling a bit in the second half, we had a few young players on, a few inexperienced players, you could see that – coping with that pressure over 90 minutes is still a problem,” the Dutch coach added.

“But if you see what we did in the first half, that is a matter of training, to become stronger, and to be able to keep making explosive actions at the end of the game. But to come back also, we again did not convert our chances. We need to be more clinical, we have to score.

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“That’s the two conclusions of this game. Yes, we have made a huge step in dominating, in controlling a game, but we cannot make those individual mistakes. Somehow, we have to be able to put those goals in.”

  • Vera Pauw: ‘We blame ourselves. It’s no excuse, but we need to help the players get used to that level’ 

With the curtain coming down on the season, Ireland now look ahead to their World Cup qualifying campaign kicking off in September.

Pauw has made her feelings on the long gap known before, though the Girls In Green will get on with things as they target an opening win over Georgia away, before a big double-header against Sweden (home) and Finland (away) the following month.

“As I said after the previous game, I’ll repeat it here, we have to train with boys,” she concluded. “Two times training at Women’s National League level is not enough. With all respect for fantastic work as everybody is doing, and the great improvement of the league, but we have to do more. We have to train more under higher pressure.

“So that is what we’re going to organise. As I said, everything is open now and players do realise that this needs to be done so they can get once or twice a week under this pressure and that will improve the stamina to make those explosive actions also at the end of the game, and that will bring a more consistent play throughout the whole game.

“Home-based sessions are crucial in getting the pressure on players from each other, and getting our level of play up. We see that when we have a session, it’s so intense so that is great, but you cannot get them every weekend.

“We’re also thinking of regional sessions, but the crucial, crucial thing is to start training with boys. It’s the only way.”

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