Vera Pauw Hopes Ireland Will Thrive Under Pressure Ahead Of Crunch Finland Qualifier

By Gary Connaughton

The next couple of weeks could prove to be pivotal for the Republic of Ireland Women's National Team.

They face into two massive World Cup qualifiers, with a place in the play-offs on the line. A win against Finland in Tallaght will be enough to secure that spot, although they will have a second chance to fight for the runner-up spot in the group in Slovakia a few days later.

It is a massive pair of fixtures, ones that Vera Pauw is very much looking forward to.

The game against the Finns is set to host a sell-out crowd, the first time that Ireland have filled Tallaght Stadium. As if there wasn't enough to play for, Pauw admitted at the squad announcement that such a level of support will only add to the occasion.

It's fantastic. I think within 30 minutes the stadium was sold out and that's the first time ever. The biggest crowd we ever had was just over 5,000, so now in 30 minutes to have the stadium packed is amazing and fantastic.

There are two sides to that. We have earned it, but it was also during the Euros with all of the hype of the Euros. We are happy that it came together and the crowd will support.

What's amazing about what the FAI have done, and we're so happy with it, is that 2,000 of the tickets are solely reserved for children. At least 2,000 girls from grassroots clubs will be there. With all of the support that we have with all of the other people as well, that's what we feel is the best of it all.

As pointed out by the Ireland boss, the success of this team and the recent Euros have certainly contributed to the added interest around women's football in this country. It is certainly a welcome development.

In saying that, there is still a sense of disappointment that Ireland were not involved in that tournament. They put themselves in a fantastic position in their qualifying group, only for a disappointing loss to an unfancied Ukraine side to scupper their play-off hopes.

Pauw admitted that the wounds relating to that failing are still fresh, although the team has grown and now looks ready to seize their latest opportunity with both hands.

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We should have been there (at the Euros). It still hurts.

I think the team has grown a lot, but we have to stay realistic in where we stand and where we are. It will be massive if we can surprise the world, but we need to be realistic that it will be a very, very hard task.

It's not something that not doable, but we have to be ready...

We should have been there. We deserved to be there, but we gave it away ourselves against Ukraine...

We have earned this position, so why would you neglect it? This is us and what we have earned over the last few years.

It's not just the two years that I have been in charge, but over 20 years. In 2008 this team qualified for a play-off for the Euros. Aine O'Gorman was already in that squad as a 16-year old.

This team has grown step by step. Now we're in a position where everybody expects something from us. That's what we want.

We will be realistic, we know what we can do. We found our limits, that is why we played so many big opponents last year. We know our limits and we know that we are growing.

26 August 2022; Manager Vera Pauw during a Republic of Ireland women squad announcement at Sky Ireland Headquarters in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
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Finland will provide a stern test on September 1st.

Ireland won the return fixture earlier in the campaign, although that result was seen as somewhat of a surprise at the time. The nature of the game, in which the away side scored early before hanging onto the lead, hints to the fact that the fixture next week is by no means a given.

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Three points will be enough to ensure a second-placed finish, while a draw would also mean Ireland's destiny will be in their own hands heading into the game in Slovakia.

Even if they lose next week, a Finland loss in Sweden (the top team in the group) coupled with an Irish victory in Slovakia would be enough for second place.

Of course, Vera Pauw is hoping it won't come to that.

Ireland will be planning to finish the job on Thursday night, although it will not be an easy task.

Many are already thinking ahead of it, but Finland were the better team away. We stole the points over there.

The thing is that this is their last chance. They will not underestimate us and we have to know where they stand. They have just played in the Euros, that can be a pro or a negative. They have three major games in their sights at the moment, with a rest period in between.

We need to see where we stand. We will be ready as always, then we will need to see if it's enough and if luck will be on our side.

The entire country will be hoping that Ireland can get a rub of the green on the night.

Should they do so, they will be one step closer to reaching their first ever major tournament.

SEE ALSO: Vera Pauw Names Ireland WNT Squad For Pivotal World Cup Qualifiers

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