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Ireland can't afford to slip up as much tougher games lie ahead

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ALL SET: Republic of Ireland players warm up during a training session at Pod Malim Brdom in Petrovac, Montenegro. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

ALL SET: Republic of Ireland players warm up during a training session at Pod Malim Brdom in Petrovac, Montenegro. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

ALL SET: Republic of Ireland players warm up during a training session at Pod Malim Brdom in Petrovac, Montenegro. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across Europe, Ireland's women's team will be consuming their thoughts on a different health warning in a tiny coastal village of Petrovac.

Just 180 miles across the Adriatic Sea from where the outbreak was most acute in Italy, all is calm and tranquil in Montenegro.

No more than 100 spectators are expected in the Pod Malim Brdom this afternoon but a mishap by the favourites would rank up there with any of the missed opportunities experienced in the history of the women's national team. Thankfully, this team managed by Vera Pauw has at least broken the glass ceiling of conquering the seconds seeds of the pool. Victory over Ukraine in September was seismic.

Unlike Pauw's Ireland, who have their three most difficult tests at the end of the campaign, Ukraine had to endure the opposite sequence.

They had been thumped 8-0 home and away by Germany before coming to Tallaght for Pauw's first game at the helm.

Now, to maximise the hand they were dealt in the fixture list, Ireland must take care of the last easy assignment in a far more remote setting to that savoured during last Thursday's 1-0 win over Greece.

Prevailing against a nation resting 60 places behind them in the FIFA rankings, probably with a bit to spare, is the only outcome the Girls in Green can countenance.

In their eleven Euro qualifiers since they joined UEFA, Montenegro have yet to accrue a point. They've conceded, on average, six goals per game and have to navigate a preliminary round to be even part of the World Cup qualifiers.

"They struggle to get out of their own half in matches," noted Pauw.

Women's football in the Balkans have not progressed at similar pace to the men's equivalent since the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In the likely case of an away win today, Ireland will have amassed 13 points from five qualifiers, whereas their rivals for the runners-up spot have zero.

Ukraine, who have this week lost friendlies to Iceland and Scotland, could not afford to drop any points in their remaining five matches. "That will not happen," observed Pauw.

All of that context highlights the importance of getting the job done. From the win over Greece, Pauw has travelled without Heather Payne but has drafted in Stephanie Roche and Emily Whelan. The talented Clare Shine, who has overcome personal adversity since bursting on the scene as a teenager, will likely be handed the stage to excel.

Amber Barrett, too, is pushing for a start. It remains to be seen whether Pauw feels Rianna Jarrett is capable of starting two games in six days, given her injury record, but at least her deputy is match-fit having become a regular with FC Koln in the Bunde sliga.

The Donegal native looked sharp when introduced for the last 20 minutes, firing a chance of extending the lead just wide on the turn.

"Our target from this double-header was six points and we've got the quality to beat Montenegro," said the 24-year-old.

"Whether it's 10-0 or 1-0, all that matters today is getting another three points," said the forward, operating in the Bundesliga for FC Koln since the start of the season. We beat Montenegro at Tallaght but they gave us a good game we know they'll be once again dogged.

"Of course, they'll sit off to allow us have possession but how we used the ball is the key. It's all about being smart with our passes and remaining patient."

Pauw has pinpointed Ireland's failure to capitalise on chances as an area of improvement and Barrett agrees. A repeat of the slip-up in Athens, when Greece equalised with the last kick of the game, is not an option.

"We do need to kill teams off when we're on top," she said in reference to the last pair of matches against Greece. "The longer it went the more on edge we became. We've got to get that right against Montenegro."

IRELAND (probable): M Hourihan (SC Braga); H Scott (Birmingham City), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), A O'Gorman (Peamount United); N Fahey (Liverpool), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage); C Shine (Glasgow City), R Littlejohn (West Ham United), K McCabe (Arsenal); A Barrett (FC Koln).

euro 2021 qualifier

MONTENEGRO v IRELAND

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