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World Cup Hopes Recede As Ireland Are Outclassed By Norway

World Cup Hopes Recede As Ireland Are Outclassed By Norway
By Gavin Cooney

This Irish squad may be capable of standing up to the FAI, but not even they are able to resist the pull of gravity.

The likelihood of a first-ever World Cup appearance for Ireland receded significantly for this evening as they fell to a  2-0 defeat against Norway at Tallaght Stadium. Norway are the group's top seeds, and even without 2016's European Player of the Year Ada Hegerberg, they were comfortably better than their hosts. 

The Irish tactics were deeply unflattering in comparison to Norway's. Whereas the visitors could knit passes between midfielders and attackers, Ireland's were a mirror of those for which Martin O'Neill has been derided. Ireland started in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but those supposedly in support of striker Leanne Kiernan were sucked deep as Norway hogged possession, led by their outstanding winger Caroline Graham Hansen.

That said, Ireland will be left nursing the painful irony of the simplicity of the goals they conceded, both of which came from a set piece. The raffish Graham Hansen forced a corner from Katie McCabe after twenty minutes, with Guro Reinten's corner flicked in by Lisa-Marie Utland.

The second goal came on the hour mark, and was once again avoidable. Ireland failed to clear their lines properly from a Reinten hoist into the penalty area, with the second ball falling to an unmarked Utland three yards out.

Minutes before Norway killed the game, Ireland had their best chance, and it was virtually the only moment Colin Bell's putative game plan clicked into gear. Leanne Kiernan chased a ball into the left-hand channel, and wriggled into some space on the halfway line. She then burned a trio of Norwegian defenders for pace before shooting relatively tamely at the goalkeeper once she got one-on-one. Support was conspicuous by its absence.

Unlike in the most recent game with Holland, Ireland didn't narrow the dimensions of the pitch as they sought to use Kiernan's pace out wide. The quality of the delivery to her, however, ranged from poor to dreadful, and too often found herself isolated once the ball did happen to come her way.

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So confident were Norway of victory at 2-0 that they were happy to substitute Graham Hansen and dawdle with ten players on the field for five minutes before introducing a replacement. Ireland brought on Amber Barrett at the same time, but the doubling of strikers made little difference. In truth, Norway created most of the chances as Ireland pushed forward, and rattled the post.

The scoreline ultimately flattered Ireland, although the group table now doesn't. This result means Ireland drop to third, two points behind Norway having played a game more. In order to maintain any hopes of making the play-offs, Ireland will need to win in Norway on Tuesday and hope later results fall their way.

While World Cup hopes have largely dissipated, there are positives to glean from the campaign thus far for Ireland. This is a young squad: Leanne Kiernan is 18, while Tyler Toland is 16. They were also deprived of the services of Harriet Payne, Saoirse Noonan, and Amy Boyle-Carr owing to the fact that they are sititng their Leaving Cert.

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But with Graham Hansen in menacing form, Ireland were unlikely to win anything with kids, and so it proved.

They have been beset by injuries - Megan Campbell, Steph Roche and Harriet Scott all missed this game - while Louise Quinn made way with a broken nose midway through the first-half.

This squad have snaffled attention in a way previous squads have failed to do, and the attendance of 3,172 would likely have swelled if the game kicked off a couple of hours after 5.30pm.

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There's been a lot of progress, but on the basis of a chastening evening in Tallaght - there's some distance to go yet.

 

 

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