The Republic of Ireland women’s national team have secured a play-off berth as they bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.
The Girls in Green defeated Finland 1-0, thanks to a second-half goal from substitute Lily Agg, to secure second place in Group A with one game left to play.
Vera Pauw’s team overcame a sluggish start, and buoyed by a record home crowd of 6,952 at Tallaght Stadium, grew into the contest. Agg’s header handed them a deserved lead, and hardened from past heartache, they were not to be denied as they held out for a famous victory.
Opportunity now knocks for the Irish, as they begin to dream of Australia and New Zealand in 2023, but they must first finish the group with away trip to Slovakia on Tuesday.
Although they are already assured of second place, an away victory next week could enhance their seeding for the next stage.
Agg header tips the scales for Ireland
In front of a bumper home crowd, the Girls in Green came into the tie in an advantageous position in Group A, thanks in no small part to their victory in Helsinki earlier in the campaign.
The visitors knew they needed to win.
Finland lost all three of their matches at the European Championships. But perhaps sharpened by their experiences in July, they started the brighter of the two teams.
Indeed, they were unlucky not to take the lead from a third-minute corner. Irish goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan misjudged the floating ball, and Megan Connolly was forced into a goal-line clearance.
They had further opportunities, but Linda Sallstrom twice forced saves from Brosnan.
Although the visitors enjoyed both possession and territory, they were unable to make their advantage count on the scoreboard. As the half wore on, the hosts gained more of a foothold.
Katie McCabe was a constant threat down the left wing, while Denise O’Sullivan linked it together impressively in the middle of the park.
Pauw’s side pushed hard for an opener late in the half. Amidst a prolonged spell of Irish pressure, Campbell’s cross from the left met the head of Diane Caldwell, whose effort forced Finland shot-stopper Tinja-Riika Korpela into her first save of the night.
The Finland goalkeeper was called into action once more moments later, this time stopping a Heather Payne shot.
Ultimately, neither side could find a breakthrough before half-time.
The interval did little to stem the hosts’ momentum. Shortly after the restart, Korpela pulled off another save after her team-mate Elli Pikkujamsa accidentally headed the ball goalward.
However, the pressure eventually paid dividends in the 54th minute. Connolly pumped a long free into the box, where substitute Agg found herself unmarked to head the ball over Korpela and into the net.
Buoyed by taking the lead, the Girls in Green looked to kick on. McCabe and O’Sullivan continued to link up impressively, with the Arsenal star shooting narrowly over the crossbar with a fierce shot.
In contrast to their victory in Helsinki, Ireland were not holding out at the heath. They saw out the result in a largely composed and professional manner.
On a record-breaking night, Ireland WNT enjoyed one of their most famous triumphs. But they will be hoping it does not prove to be the highlight of the campaign, as a major opportunity opens up.
With a play-off spot already secured, the Republic of Ireland travel to Slovakia for their final game of the group next Tuesday. Finland meanwhile host group winners Sweden.
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