Women’s World Cup Qualifiers: Ireland vs. Sweden, Tallaght Stadium, Thursday at 19.00 – Live RTÉ2
This is not the test. This is Katie McCabe’s improving team manning the barricades against an invading football nation so advanced in comparison that it’s like meeting extraterrestrial life.
“Football in Sweden has always been the biggest sport,” explained manager Peter Gerhardsson. “Then you have ice hockey and Olympic handball. In Ireland you have Gaelic. . . what do you call it? “
“Yeah! And something else [mimics holding a two-handed scimitar]. ”
“Yeah! I’ve seen it. Wow.”
This is where our ice hockey players go.
– That is why we have always had many football players in Sweden, says Gerhardsson. “Man and woman. It starts with a round ball and children can say ‘yes, I want to do it’ because they have idols they can see. If you do not have it…”
A draw, not a win, would be a seismic achievement. You know it’s so when the Olympic silver medalists can only repeat the name of the Irish player mentioned while trying to show respect.
“I have played against a couple of them in the WSL,” said Chelsea’s Magdalena Eriksson. “McCabe is in the shape of her life from what I have seen. She does an incredibly good job for Arsenal, where she is very influential.
“She is very influential in this Irish team as well. We will have to watch out for her but also watch out for other players who we know have qualities.”
McCabe will start on the left wing, which will probably have more to do with defense than attack, but it will be crucial that both full-backs come high on the pitch.
“Sweden will push us back,” said Ireland manager Vera Pauw.
The Swedes definitely expect to continue an undefeated run, not including the crushing penalty loss against Canada in Tokyo, which extends over 19 matches and the entire pandemic. Qualification for the World Cup 2023 already looks secure despite unimpressive wins over Slovakia (1-0) and Georgia (4-0).
Injuries to skipper Caroline Seger and Real Madrid striker Kosovare Asllani – who has combined for 70 goals in 377 internationals – have barely affected the preparations due to the emergence of Everton’s teenage sensation Hanna Bennison and Barcelona’s Fridolina Rolfö.
The real test is how Ireland is doing and then recovering before a trip to Finland on Tuesday. Two losses would put manager Pauw and the theory of “football periodization” under all possible new pressure.
“It’s great to play high opposition,” she said, “we love it. We have a team without fear of failure but we are realistic where we stand. We are 33 on the rankings, Sweden is second. It will be like to play Germany or the United States, they are part of the small group. “
The Dutch woman’s methods, especially sought after by FAI’s performance manager Ruud Dokter, are not under scrutiny after last month’s 3-2 victory over Australia took a losing streak of seven matches. That result revealed a team run by three McCabe core veterans, Denise O’Sullivan and Louise Quinn, with intelligent support from Heather Payne and Lucy Quinn, but it also revealed a fragility in the goalkeeper.
Readings Grace Moloney is expected to start ahead of Courtney Brosnan on a night where Bazunuesque heroics will be crucial. Sweden took 44 shots against Georgia.
Leanne Kiernan’s goal-scoring start to Liverpool’s season could lead to another change in the starting eleven, but the Cavan native’s pace may prove just as valuable off the bench.
Because this is not the test. It comes when Ireland need to win in Helsinki.
The real sin is that some genius decided to lift the restrictions for fans in the arenas the day after a big football international match with 4,000 tickets that did not meet the growing demand. A switch to Aviva Stadium would have been special, even if Tallaght have become home to this Irish team.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (possible): Moloney; O’Gorman, Fahey, Louise Quinn, McCarthy, McCabe; Finn, O’Sullivan, Connolly; Payne, Lucy Quinn.
SWEDEN (possible): Lindahl; Glas, Ilestedt, Eriksson, Andersson; Angeldahl, Rolfö, Bennison; Jakobsson, Blackstenius, Hurtig.
Judge: Deborah Anex (Switzerland).