By Phil Medlicott, PA
Skipper Katie McCabe says the Republic of Ireland have learned from past mistakes and are feeling confident as they look to become history-makers in their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The team, who have never qualified for a major tournament, fell short in their bid to make next summer’s Euros in England as they finished third in their group, two points behind second-placed Ukraine.
Having opened their World Cup qualifying bid with a 1-0 home loss to Sweden – currently the second-placed side in FIFA’s rankings – followed by a 2-1 win in Finland, the Republic continue their Group A fixtures by hosting Slovakia and then Georgia in the coming days.
McCabe said: “We were really disappointed to not qualify for the Euros. I felt there was a real opportunity for us to do that.
“I also think we have a really youthful squad in terms of learning, and that we’ve learned from those mistakes made in that previous qualifying campaign.
“We lost 1-0 to Sweden but I really felt we stood toe-to-toe at times and could have pinched a point. We took the positives out of that into the Finland game and beat them.
“I’m confident in our ability, I know what we’re capable of. There’s really tough teams in our group and Sweden are going to make it really difficult for everyone. So for us it is aiming for that second spot. Hopefully we can continue to just take it game by game and gain the points. We need to remain with our feet on the ground and get the job done.”
The left-sided Arsenal player added: “It’s not been done before, so to captain my country to a major tournament would be a highlight of my career.
“It’s something I really want and am really working towards, along with my team-mates and the staff. We’ve still got a long way to go, but for sure, if we got there, it would be special.”
Northern Ireland qualified for their first major tournament in April by securing a place in the Euros via the play-offs, which McCabe feels can be a source of inspiration for Vera Pauw’s side.
“Not so long ago we were playing Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying and beating them. To see the improvements they’ve made over the last few years is fantastic. They’re there, we’re not, we’re trying to get there and we’ll do our utmost to try to bridge that gap.”
Pauw’s team, whose qualifying campaign was preceded by the FAI’s announcement in August that they would receive the same match fees as their male counterparts with immediate effect, play Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday before welcoming Georgia five days later. The 2023 World Cup will be held in Australia and New Zealand.
The Republic of Ireland v Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday, November 25th will be televised live on RTÉ Two from 6.30pm (throw-in at 7pm).