Ireland v Finland: Vera Pauw's side can seal World Cup play-off at Tallaght

Cork duo Denise O'Sullivan and Megan Connolly will start in front of a sell-out crowd
Ireland v Finland: Vera Pauw's side can seal World Cup play-off at Tallaght

Denise O'Sullivan during a Republic of Ireland Women training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

HISTORY beckons for the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team as they get ready for tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Finland in Tallaght Stadium.

Should Vera Pauw’s side win in Dublin, they will secure a play-off spot for the first time in their history.

If Ireland lose, they will need to win their final group game against Slovakia and hope the opposition slip up against Sweden.

Regardless of the result, tonight will be a historic occasion for Irish women’s football.

Not only are the Girls in Green playing in front of a sold-out stadium, but they will cap off an extraordinary campaign.

Ireland are currently second in Group A and they have 11 points with a +20 goal difference. They collected this tally by beating Georgia 20-0 on aggregate, winning in Helsinki, and getting a point off Sweden in Gothenburg.

The Finland away game was the qualifier that swung momentum in Ireland’s favour.

The team travelled to Helsinki on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Sweden and Ireland needed to get a result in the Finnish capital.

Ireland responded to the pressure through Megan Connolly, who curled in a free-kick in the tenth minute. After Adelina Engman equalised at the start of the second half, Ireland pushed up and Denise O’Sullivan bundled the ball in.

That result is just a snapshot of Cork’s impact on this campaign. When Georgia went to Dublin last December, Denise O’Sullivan netted a hat-trick and Saoirse Noonan scored her first goal for the Irish senior team.

In the return fixture, Denise O’Sullivan and Megan Connolly got two of Ireland’s nine goals in Gori.

Republic of Ireland's Megan Connolly. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Republic of Ireland's Megan Connolly. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

Even Eve Badana, who won the 2017 FAI Women’s Cup with Cork City, is enjoying a fine season with DLR Waves. The goalkeeper is one of four called up to the squad, and she has kept ten clean sheets in this year’s edition of the Women’s National League.

All of this good work could go out the window if Finland get a result on Thursday evening.

FORM

Luckily, the Irish players have been hitting form at the right time with their clubs. Denise O’Sullivan won the NWSL Challenge Cup Championship last May with North Carolina Courage. Saoirse Noonan moved to England to play for Durham in the FA Women’s Championship, and she scored on her debut.

They will have to face a Finnish team that is burned from their performances at Euro 2022 and eager to make amends. The Eagle-owls lost all three group games last July and they scored just one goal, against Spain.

Finland, like Ireland, have never qualified for a World Cup. This is a major issue in a country which has consistently achieved in the European Championships, like in 2005 when they reached the semi-finals.

Ireland will be well aware of the threat that Finland pose, but they will come into the game with a ton of momentum after their performances in the Pinatar Cup. Vera Pauw’s team played in that tournament last February and they beat Poland and Wales. This was enough to earn the team a third place finish at the showpiece event in Spain.

Ireland already carried this form into qualifiers against Sweden and Georgia, and now they just need one more performance before they can dream of a play-off spot.

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