‘Irish pain turns to hope as Group B blown wide open’

'Irish pain turns to hope as Group B blown wide open'


Kyra Carusa in action against Australia
Kyra Carusa led the line for the Republic of Ireland against Australia in Sydney
Hosts: Australia and New Zealand Dates: 20 July-20 August
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It says a lot about the Republic of Ireland that, on their World Cup debut against a heavily fancied host nation, they left Stadium Australia on Thursday disappointed that they had not earned at least a point.

However, that disappointment will have been replaced by renewed hope after Nigeria held Olympic champions Canada to a goalless draw on Friday, a result which has blown Group B wide open.

Australia are now in a strong position to progress despite the absence of star striker and captain Sam Kerr, who is ruled out of the co-hosts’ game against Nigeria after missing the win over the Republic with a calf problem.

The Republic, meanwhile, retain hope of reaching the knockout stages despite that opening defeat.

On Thursday, the home support were, as expected, enthusiastic about a first game on Australian soil, but it was those in green who made the most noise.

The chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ before the teams came out were genuinely spinetingling, and that was not lost of the Irish players.

“That was crazy,” said Republic striker Kyra Carusa on standing in the tunnel before the game.

“You try to make it feel like it is any other match and you try to remind yourself that it’s a game.

“You could hear the echoes and cheers from the crowd when you are yards away. It is unbelievable to hear that echo between that tunnel.

“It condenses itself and comes at you and hits you in the face. You walk and it opens up into this immaculate stadium.

“I don’t know how many players can say that they actually get to do that.

“It meant everything. Even after the game, you look high to low and you see Irish flags flying all over and I just wanted to wave to every single individual person I could because it was just so electric to see that.”

‘Any other game’

In truth, the action on the pitch in the first half was somewhat anti-climactic after the pre-match hype. But that’s exactly what the Republic of Ireland wanted.

They didn’t let the hosts build on the atmosphere and really limited the Matildas during the opening 45 minutes.

There is no doubt Australia missed the focal presence of Kerr, and while Mary Fowler and Caitlin Foord showed glimpses of what they could do, that’s all they were – glimpses.

Ultimately, Marissa Sheva’s push that led to Australia’s penalty proved costly and was a harsh reminder about the fine margins at the highest level.

“Once you are in the game you think to yourself, ‘it’s like any other game, these are any other opponents’,” Carusa said, adding that Sheva’s foul was “unfortunate”.

“It’s hard to keep your head in that kind of space. You are constantly trying to get a feel for the game.

“We knew we needed to settle into the first five or ten minutes and do what we do well, then try to pick or find our moments.”

The intorductions of Abbie Larkin and Lucy Quinn put the Republic of Ireland on the front foot
The introductions of Abbie Larkin and Lucy Quinn put the Republic of Ireland on the front foot

Instead of going into their shells, the penalty sparked the Republic into life and they should have left Stadium Australia with a point.

The introductions of Lucy Quinn and teenager Abbie Larkin offered pace and an attacking impetus.

Vera Pauw has such a well-organised defensive shape, but the final 20 minutes showed what the Irish have to offer once the shackles are released.

What if Megan Connolly’s deflected free-kick was inches lower, or if Katie McCabe got the ball out of her feet quicker, or if Louise Quinn’s header was just the other side of the post?

All what ifs, and that’s all they will be, but there was enough in the second-half performance to show the team belong at this level.

“The message within the team was ‘push and step up’,” Carusa added on how the team responded after Catley’s penalty.

“After that, it was the catalyst for us to push up a bit more and put them on the back foot.

“We made them play out when they didn’t really want to play out. It was a catalyst for us to get behind one another. A moment like that could crumble any other team.”

But it didn’t crumble the Republic and Carusa, who was on the bench for the frantic final stages of the match, says it was difficult to remain calm as her team-mates pushed for an equaliser.

“They tell you to sit but you just pretend that you can’t hear, ‘there’s 80,000 people, I can’t hear you’.

“You can’t be asked to sit down, it’s the opposite of everything inside of you.

“Abbie Larkin made a great run down the line and it was almost like half our team was running with her.

“It’s contagious, the energy and electricity. That’s the difference-maker in a World Cup and it means that much to us.”

Deep down, the Irish players and staff will have looked at progression to the knockout stages, but now it is a realistic prospect if they can get a positive result against the wounded Canadians on Wednesday (13:00 BST).

On the other hand, defeat – no matter how good the performance may be – would end their hopes.

If they can build on the final 20 minutes of their opener against Australia, they can continue to dream once again.


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