Slovakia 0 Ireland 1
CORK midfield maestro Denise O’Sullivan’s 18th international goal was enough for Ireland to end their World Cup campaign with another win and confirm their bye into the final of the playoff next month.
Vera Pauw’s side will discover their opposition for the one-off tie on October 11 in this Friday’s draw but are developing a winning habit that engenders a confidence and momentum peaking at the perfect time.
A patchy game in Senec was settled on 36 minutes by a piece of brilliance by the Leesider, her swivel and turn inside the box yard box creating the space to tuck the ball into the bottom corner.
Unfortunately, Cork's Megan Connolly missed the game, having played through the pain barrier in last Thursday's match after suffering fractured ribs and bruised kidney.
Slovakia were a shadow of the team that pushed Ireland so strongly in Tallaght last November, not once seriously testing Courtney Brosnan over the 90 minutes before a measly crowd of 490.
Three places from the team that beat Finland on Thursday were up for grabs, with Pauw electing to go like-for-like rather than reconfigure positionally. That wasn’t required until the final 20 minutes.
Claire O’Riordan, Harriet Scott and Lily Agg started. Agg harnessed midfield for her first competitive cap, lining up alongside Denise O’Sullivan, who was close to profiting from a Megan Campbell’s hurtled throw-ins within a minute of kick-off.
Peter Kopúň had circled the Liverpool player’s weaponry from the touchline in his pre-match warnings, stressing the difficulty posed for any team to defend the deliveries. His Slovakia team were the latest victims.
From that panic that it wrought, of equal importance was the second balls and frequently it was O’Sullivan who was first to react.
On more than one occasion, her path to goal was blocked by a wave of blue inside the 18-yard box, forcing Ireland to rethink and utilise width that was rarely available in the early stages.
Although goalmouth action was scarce, Ireland still held an edge that threatened to find a breakthrough.
Caldwell should have done so on 33 minutes, swiping horribly wide from just eight years out after Quinn’s knockdown from a Campbell throw, but O’Sullivan wouldn’t be so wasteful.
A core feature of this campaign has been the emergence of Jess Ziu as a regular and her contribution was illustrated by igniting the move that engineering the opener.
Her tidiness in midfield was apparent when he latched onto a loose ball, releasing the ball to O’Sullivan on the right. She, in turn, fed Payne to surge towards the endline before cutting the ball across the six-yard lane.
That corridor of uncertainty was too much for Jana Vojteková, whose outstretched foot only managed to poke the ball into the path of O’Sullivan. Without much time, she still had the nimbleness to turn and steer the ball into the far corner past Korenčiová’s dive.
Once ahead, Ireland were never rattled, the Slovaks devoid of the creativeness to cause the upset the manager was in need of to save his job.