Gary Connaughton reporting from Senec, Slovakia
In the unassuming surroundings of a small holiday village 30 kilometres outside of Bratislava, Ireland have taken a potentially major step towards World Cup qualification this evening.
While second place in the a group and a World Cup play-off, there was still a huge amount at stake for Vera Pauw's side. Three points would be enough to ensure that they finished as one of the three best-runner ups in Europe, enough to secure a first round bye for the games in October.
In many senses, this fixture could be viewed as the first part of the play-offs. A win in Slovakia would ensure advancement into the final round of the UEFA process, the same prize that would have been on offer should Ireland not have been part of that three best runner-ups group.
Of course, there is still the lingering possibility of a trip to New Zealand for a further play-off even if Ireland are successful next month, but that is a conversation for another day.
Pauw admitted the day before the match that getting the players back on the ground after the result against Finland would be a challenge, and while the team did not seem to be lacking in determination, they did struggle to get things going in the opening periods of the game.
Ireland certainly had more impetus in attack, but their final ball often let them down on too many occasions. Some players were also growing frustrated with some stern fouls from the Slovakians.
However, they would eventually make the breakthrough after an excellent team goal was finished off by Denise O'Sullivan.
THERE IT IS!
Denise O'Sullivan with the finish after a break by Jess Ziu left Heather Payne with the chance to cutback to the in-form midfielder#rtesoccer #SVKIRL
📺 Watch - https://t.co/aR8cFzAlWf
📻 Listen - https://t.co/pKRq9dYQiN
📱 Updates - https://t.co/TYLVoUyJ72 pic.twitter.com/0ZryFNcvZu
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) September 6, 2022
That proved to be the difference between the sides.
A looping volley from Katie McCabe and a Claire O'Riordan shot cleared off the line aside, there was not a huge amount of scoring opportunities produced.
Instead, what was impressive was the resilience on show from the players on the pitch. That is a big change form the Euro qualifying campaign, when the team struggled as the pressure came on late in the group.
Speaking to the media after the game, Vera Pauw said that the way her team responded to adversity this evening was a sign of just how far they have comer.
Four clean sheets in a row, Who would have thought that a while ago!
I said at the pre-match meeting , 'we always score, if we don’t concede, we always score'. It’s about one or two moments in the game and then the rest is conditional. So you have to make sure that the rest needs to be without mistakes, a tight block.
If we go in attack, we must be purposeful. That last thing could be better but we had also many opportunities that in the future we will take better. That is what needs to grow...
I said to my staff this afternoon that we now really feel and know the squad whereas before they were new to us. Players were ready for that, because they had felt the nastiness in the first game and you need to deal with that, it is football and they dealt really well with it.
The draw for the play-offs will take place on Friday, at which point Ireland will know who their opponents will be for the fixture next month.
The nature of the draw means that their seeded status does not prohibit them from drawing other strong teams, with Pauw admitting that they would prefer to be paired with one of the lower ranked sides.
She said he players will party be allowed to celebrate their victory tonight after they return to Dublin on their chartered flight. From then, all focus will be on the task at hand next month when the manager hopes that the extra training time earned with this result tonight will pay dividends.
Yes, they are allowed to party. I will go to bed and leave them...
To be realistic, you want to have a lower ranked team. But you cannot tell, we just need to wait...
Yes of course (it will be better to have more training time before play-off), because we are always better in our second game. The longer we’re together, the clearer the tasks as is the execution.
I always say that it’s 11 v 11 and about the execution of our tasks. We never give up, we’re there for each other and we stay in control. Staying in control is almost our mantra. We showed that tonight.
Here's hoping that things fall Ireland's way over the next month or so.
Should they do so, they could be booking their ticket to the World Cup for the first time.