Thursday, June 20, 2024

Destination Stockholm As Ireland WNT Look To Motor On v Sweden | Balls.ie

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Eoin Harrington reporting from Stockholm

In Stockholm around this time of year, it barely gets dark at all during the night.

Landing into Arlanda Airport shortly before midnight, one can notice the faint glimmer of sunlight still clinging on and fading to the west. By the time you land in the city, it’s almost visible coming back to the east.

Though the image of Scandinavian countries which naturally comes to mind might be one of snow and darkness and bitterly cold winters, the summers can be bright, hot and beautiful.

The sun was belting down as the small pack of Irish journalists made our way out to the Friends Arena on the outskirts of the city on Monday morning to pick the brains of Ireland’s Eileen Gleeson and Kyra Carusa ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier v Sweden.

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By the time we left the suburban town of Solna, thunder could be heard in the distance as storms rolled in. The affinity with rain is of course a cliché, but it would be remiss not to joke that it might not the worst thing for this Irish team.

Halfway through their qualifying campaign and pointless thus far, Gleeson’s side are hoping to prove a point in the Swedish capital on Tuesday night.

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Ireland look to kick on from encouraging showing v Sweden

Ireland Sweden

3 June 2024; Katie McCabe and Jess Ziu, left, during a Republic of Ireland women’s training session at Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The first half in the home fixture against Sweden last week – more specifically, the opening 30 minutes – was the best period of football Ireland have played under Eileen Gleeson. In truth, it might be the best they have played since the World Cup play-off at Hampden Park.

After all that effort, to come out the other side losing 3-0 to a ruthless Swedish team will have been bitterly disappointing to Eileen Gleeson and her players.

But Ireland fans were under no illusions this group was going to be hugely difficult when the draw was made earlier this year. It would be miraculous if Ireland were to usurp two of the world’s top six sides to qualify automatically.

That is no disrepect to the Girls in Green. They are just arriving at this level, while their three group opponents have been operating there for years. Gleeson was keen to stress as much when speaking to Balls.ie pitchside in Solna on Monday morning.

 

I think the team have done well. I know the results don’t reflect any outcome of that. But we have to keep talking about performance.

We all know the level of opponent. If you don’t factor that in, you’re not having a realistic conversation around the group and how we’re trying to approach the games.

Obviously, we were much deeper against England and France – you can say ‘what if we pushed up?’ – but you have to try and stay in these games. They are the best in the world and you’re seeing that in [their] games against each other – they’re not high scoring either.

For us, it is development. This is our first time having these consistent games at this level.

Now we have to be consistent against the top-level teams. There’s not a lot of leeway.

It takes time, it’s not going to get you instant results. You’re always going to be the underdog. I think people with a real understanding of football get that and people that don’t maybe are hyper critical. They’re entitled to their opinions but we know what the level of the opponent is, we know what our own level is. There has to be a reality to that as well.

Strong words from Gleeson but one can’t find fault with them. The achievement for Ireland was being in League A in the first place. Of course, they did not show up to accept their fate, but a bout of realism might be needed by some in the fan base who expected them to instantly be on it at this level.

And yet, as Gleeson referenced, Friday has given encouragement that, slowly but surely, Ireland are finding the confidence to play their own game regardless of the level of opposition.

It was the first time Ireland have gone the distance against any of their opponents in this group – the scoreline was not an accurate reflection of how the game played out. The fear may be that Sweden step up a gear on Tuesday but they will be fully aware of the threat Ireland pose.

Megan Connolly

3 June 2024; Megan Connolly during a Republic of Ireland women’s training session at Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

One thing which Ireland must do on Tuesday is be more clinical than they have been thus far in the group. This team does have goals in it, especially if they play on the front foot as they did on Friday.

Striker Kyra Carusa explained to us pitchside on Monday the mixture of frustration and encouragement the side took from the number of chances they managed to create against Sweden last week – fans will hope she and the rest of the Ireland attack can be more ruthless in front of goal.

Head coach Gleeson celebrated her birthday in Sweden on Monday – telling us it was the perfect setting in which to celebrate such a day. She also shared her hope that she would see her players give her the perfect present with a huge result.

The venue for the fourth game of Ireland’s campaign is the Friends Arena, an outstanding uber-modern stadium curiously hidden away amid a myriad of similarly uber-modern shopping malls, hotels, and office blocks in the suburb of Solna.

Its predecessor, the Rasunda Stadion, played host to 17-year-old Pelé’s World Cup final masterclass against the hosts in 1958. It was also the venue for one of Denmark’s group games in their astonishing EURO ’92 triumph, won on a few week’s notice after the expulsion of Yugoslavia.

A similar bolt from the blue in Solna would be required at this stage for Ireland to qualify automatically, but there is reason to believe that they can kick on and start to build momentum for what feels like an inevitable play-off march later this year.

Though the venue surrounding it is stunning, the pitch in Stockholm looks in poor condition after a string of Taylor Swift concerts here just a fortnight ago. One hopes that that will not hamper the quality of what is set up to be a subtly important game for both teams.

Sweden may have the international pedigree and experience – and the bragging rights from last week – but they are not Out of the Woods yet, and Ireland may yet have a trick up their sleeve on Tuesday evening.

Ireland take on Sweden in the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Tuesday evening. Kick-off is at 5:30pm and the game is live on RTÉ 2.

SEE ALSO: The Much Changed Irish Team John O’Shea Should Select Against Hungary

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