Anastasia Bolkvadze has a tradition of taking selfies with her heroes and the Georgian defender rushed straight to Denise O’Sullivan for her Irish snap on Tuesday night.
O’Sullivan had just picked up a hat-trick in a record-breaking 11-0 win over bottom of the World Cup qualifying group in Tallaght, causing guest manager Giorgi Chkhaidze to cry.
For the last World Cup match in 2019, only the 30 best ranked teams in Europe entered the main qualifying phase, joined by five qualifiers from the preliminaries, before this version was opened to all members of the l ‘UEFA of 51 teams. Georgia did not make it past the preliminaries at that point and their status as one of the beaten minnows during that international window – England also beat Latvia 20-0 – could force Fifa to rethink their format. Ireland coach Vera Pauw has called for the issue to be “resolved”.
O’Sullivan and his teammates were only able to put substandard opposition aside before them, training in marksmanship for the toughest tests of the New Year.
They collected seven points out of 12 possible midway through the campaign, sitting in the place of the dams, one point ahead of Finland.
A move to runaway leaders Sweden, the toughest game of the eight-game series, is the next qualifying game on April 12, but Pauw has a three-game friendly block slated for March. The Pinatar Cup in Spain, which last year brought together Scotland and Northern Ireland, is the target – if Covid allows it.
Tuesday’s walk does not gloss over the problems encountered in last Thursday’s 1-1 draw against Slovakia, when their difficulties in eliminating a similarly level opposition were exposed. Their second leg on the last day of the campaign, five days after Ireland hosted Finland on September 1, could be decisive in their search for that runner-up spot.
“We are in a good position,” said O’Sullivan, a regular with Team North Carolina Courage. “There is still a long way to go in the countryside, with Sweden away and Finland playing at home.
“Finland are a very good team but we will be looking to win against them.”
Time will tell if the draw against Slovakia ultimately nullifies Ireland’s ambitions of securing their first tournament play-off since 2008, but Tuesday’s cake at least left them smiling at the end of the season. year and campaign.
“While it was disappointing to lose those two points to Slovakia, it was the performance that disappointed us the most,” O’Sullivan said of last month’s drop in victory against Finland, in which she had marked the winner. “After the victory in Helsinki, and playing very well there, we expected a performance against Slovakia.
“We were confident going into the game, but that night we just didn’t perform. We watched it afterwards and knew that individually neither of us had played that night.
Sweden could seal their qualification for the 2023 showpiece by winning a sixth straight qualification against Ireland. Sweden have yet to confirm a venue but, whether it’s Gothenburg or Stockholm, another packed hall for the second-best team in the world is on the way.
An own goal from Louise Quinn separated the teams at Tallaght in September and forward Lucy Quinn believes Ireland are capable of shaking off the seeds. “We can cause them problems,” said the Birmingham City forward. “It’s a top-level team, but these are the teams you want to test yourself against. When we play our best, we are a really tough team to play.