PREVIEW: Can Ireland’s Girls in Green impress on their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut?

With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup continuing to draw ever closer, it’s time to focus on yet another of the eight debutants making their first appearance at the tournament this summer.

The Republic of Ireland will look to impress – as not only is this their first World Cup, it’s also their first major tournament. As Vera Pauw’s side head down under, do they have what it takes to make this summer memorable for millions of Irish fans back home?

The road to Australia

The Girls in Green’s qualification campaign began in October 2021, as Vera Pauw’s side fell to a narrow defeat against Sweden at Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium. Just under a week later though, Ireland’s fortunes seemed to change as Megan Connolly and Denise O’Sullivan netted in a hard-fought victory against Finland.

November’s 1-1 draw against Slovakia saw Katie McCabe on the scoresheet, but it was the 11-0 thrashing of Georgia five days later that deservedly stole the headlines. An early own goal put the advantage firmly in the hands of the hosts – Kyra Carusa, Lucy Quinn, Saiorse Noonan, Amber Barrett and Diane Caldwell all scored a goal each. Denise O’Sullivan bagged a hat-trick, with Katie McCabe also notching twice in an utterly faultless performance.

McCabe was involved once more in April 2022, scoring the opener as her side were held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden in Gothenburg. Two months later, the Girls in Green headed to Tbilisi – recording yet another hefty victory against a weak Georgian side. This time, McCabe secured her long-awaited hat-trick while Niamh Fahey, Megan Connolly, Abbie Larkin, Louise Quinn and Denise O’Sullivan all made it onto the scoresheet in a nine-goal thriller.

Vera Pauw’s side won their final two games of the group stage – recording a 1-0 win against Finland in Dublin, before winning by the same margin in Slovakia. But despite a largely impressive qualifying campaign, a second-place finish wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the group stages – and the Girls in Green would have to endure a one-leg playoff match.

They’d face Scotland at Hampden Park, after the Tartan Army recorded a narrow victory against Austria in extra-time of the first round. In front of more than 10,000 fans, it was Amber Barrett that found the decisive goal – sending the Republic of Ireland to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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Captain, Leader, Legend

Katie McCabe needs no introduction. She’s become somewhat of an icon within the women’s football world, due in part to her incredibly impressive performances with Arsenal over the last few seasons.

But the events of the 2022/23 season truly allowed McCabe to shine, stepping in and donning the captain’s armband in the latter stages of the season as injuries kept Kim Little and Leah Williamson on the sidelines.

McCabe will be the standout player in this Irish side at the upcoming tournament, and her versatility offers Vera Pauw the option to shift tactically if required. The 27-year-old is able to operate anywhere on the left flank, but has proven her worth in a central midfield role too – and she certainly knows how to find the back of the net, as demonstrated by her several screamers this season.

She’s been equally as impressive for her country. In 2017, she was appointed as captain of the national team at just 21 years of age – making her the youngest player to sport the armband in the team’s history. McCabe is an incredible captain, but her fierce and fiery personality means that an on-pitch scrap is never out of the question!

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Will preparations pay off?

The Girls in Green have played six fixtures since the turn of the year, with their opening match in 2023 coming in the form of a goalless draw against China in Algeciras.

The Republic of Ireland then headed stateside, with two fixtures against the reigning World Champions designed to function as an indicator of their ability to compete against the best teams. Vera Pauw’s side lost both matches, but by respectable scorelines – 2-0 and 1-0.

On June 22, the Girls in Green claimed their first – and only – victory of the calendar year. In front of almost 6,000 fans at Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium, they came back from behind against Zambia after Courtney Brosnan’s own goal saw the hosts trailing at the interval. Amber Barrett’s brace and a goal from Claire O’Riordan ensured the home faithful would be celebrating, despite Racheal Kundananji’s 79th-minute strike.

Remaining in the capital city, Vera Pauw’s side welcomed France on July 6. Despite a strong first-half performance, the Girls in Green found themselves behind at the break – Maëlle Lakrar’s first senior goal came in injury time, and was swiftly followed by Eugénie Le Sommer finding the back of the net. Lakrar was able to add her second just after the hour mark, ensuring Ireland would head down under off the back of a loss.

But there would be one final chance to redeem themselves and build momentum ahead of their tournament debut – as they faced Colombia on July 14. The behind-closed-doors friendly at Brisbane’s Meakin Park was called off after just twenty minutes though as Denise O’Sullivan was left requiring hospital treatment, with the FAI citing the ‘overly physical’ nature of the game as the reason for the premature abandonment.

Despite registering just the one win in 2023, Ireland have displayed signs of promise throughout, including in defeats to France and the United States. Should they turn up with the same grit and determination in Australia, the Girls in Green stand every chance of progressing – and they’ll be grateful for having had the opportunity to test themselves against the best sides in the world.

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The potential opponents

Ireland have been allocated a spot in Group B – meaning they’ll face Australia, Canada and Nigeria in their bid to qualify for the knockout stages.

As co-hosts of the tournament, the Matildas will look to make the most of their home advantage – and Australia certainly have the quality to progress deep into the latter stages of this tournament.

While it’s Sam Kerr that will undoubtedly steal the headlines, the Chelsea star isn’t the only world-class player within this Australian side – Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord will look to play a crucial role. Real Madrid’s latest signing, Hayley Raso, will be given one final opportunity to link up with her former Manchester City teammate, Mary Fowler.

Group B will be an emotional rollercoaster ride for Arsenal fans, whose allegiances will be split once more as Ireland face Canada. Sabrina D’Angelo and Cloé Lacasse will look to be influential this summer – but they aren’t the only standout stars in this Canadian side. Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan and Adriana Leon are more examples of the WSL talent on display, though that’s still far from an exhaustive list.

Canada’s best finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup came in 2003, as they finished fourth in the sixteen-team tournament. Bev Priestman’s side will be looking to improve on their 2019 record, when they suffered elimination in the round-of-sixteen.

Nigeria may be overlooked, but they’re the only team in Group B to have appeared at every edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup – Australia and Canada both missed out in 1991. The Super Falcons reached the quarterfinals in 1999, though they’ve otherwise failed to really impress.

Despite this being Nigeria’s ninth World Cup appearance, they’ve won just four games at the tournament before – two in 1999, one in 2011 and one in 2019. If Randy Waldrum’s side are to progress from this difficult group, they’ll surely need to add another win or two to that tally.

The standout name in this Nigerian squad is Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala, who has enjoyed plenty of success with her club in recent years – but fans may be more familiar with Ashleigh Plumptre, who recently announced that she would be leaving her childhood club, Leicester City.

If the Girls in Green are able to progress from Group B, they’ll face an opponent from Group D on August 7. While Vera Pauw’s side will be hoping to encounter China, Haiti or Denmark, there is the very real possibility of a mouthwatering round-of-sixteen tie against England.

If you’d like more information on the Republic of Ireland’s potential opponents, we’ve compiled a handy comprehensive guide to every team competing in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – you can read that by clicking this link.

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FromTheSpot will be bringing you coverage of every game throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including previews and detailed reports. We’ll cover games in the buildup to the tournament too, so you can get a feel for the potential favourites ahead of action getting underway in Australia and New Zealand.