Republic of Ireland 11 Georgia 0
A record-breaking 11-goal rout of Georgia to end a more than encouraging 2021. Inescapable Tallaght winds proved the real opposition on a night when 3,522 young fans braved the conditions to witness their Republic of Ireland team surpass Sweden on goal difference.
Granted, they still trail Group A royalty by eight points with a game in hand. But enough number crunching.
Denise O’Sullivan, freed to play her natural No 10 role, made sure of this ruthless thumping, as the Cork maestro feasted with a hat-trick.
“Who is picking these, Katie’s mum?” wondered Ruesha Littlejohn when Stephanie Roche settled upon the Irish captain for player of the match.
Granted, Arsenal’s Katie McCabe was outstanding ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup final against Chelsea.
Qualification for the 2023 World Cup demanded a full court press, with Louise Quinn minding the house, as Georgia offered next to nothing in possession.
Ireland can now seek shelter from a worm-turning year with the ledger reading: three wins, five defeats and last week’s costly draw against Slovakia the only blot since a seven-game losing streak was snapped by beating Australia last September.
Lone Georgia striker Khatia Tchkonia understandably lost her temper with team-mates who refused to bust a gut to support what proved a succession of pointless runs. They all seemed gripped by a fear of being embarrassed on the counterattack, instead settling for death by a thousand McCabe lasers into the box.
The opening goal began with recalled North Carolina Courage defender Diane Caldwell playing a ball ahead of McCabe, whose bouncing cross missed Kyra Carusa only for Maiko Bebia to head into her own net before Lucy Quinn could finish at the back post.
It should have been 2-0 after 10 minutes but Carusa made a hash of Lucy Quinn’s whipped cross after the usual subtle touches from O’Sullivan.
The levee was always going to break. McCabe almost scored off Megan Connolly’s quick free-kick teed up a clean strike that Teona Sukhashvili saved with an outstretched leg. Both Irish influencers would get their reward down the straight.
Carusa, a prolific striker in the Danish top flight for HB Koge, got plenty of chances to break her international duck as Ireland’s wing backs, McCabe and Jessica Ziu, were rarely tracked as Georgia confirmed pre-match assumptions about offering little outside of silly fouling. The studs of Irina Khaburdzania and Bebia were punished with yellow cards.
When McCabe’s corner found Louise Quinn’s head – a sentence that should be trademarked by the veteran duo – a solid connection was helped along by Carusa as the Californian became only the second centre forward to score in 11 competitive matches under Vera Pauw. That stat would be erased before the finish.
The third goal was a gem. O’Sullivan came short and flipped a delicious around-the-corner pass for McCabe’s clever cutback rewarding Lucy Quinn’s umpteenth late run into the box.
The fourth signalled a complete Georgian collapse as Littlejohn glided past several red shirts to gift O’Sullivan a tap-in. Before the hour mark she claimed a second with an arcing right-foot finish. The hat-trick came from her second header of this campaign, after McCabe shrugged off a stonewall penalty claim, missed by referee Jurgita Macikunyté, to find O’Sullivan as if she was skimming stones on the beach.
McCabe finally got in among the rout, chipping a penalty home as Bebia was harshly sent off with a second yellow card for an innocuous handball. All shots were falling now, with McCabe quickly grabbing her second.
“They kept going with a disciplined way to the end, even those who came on kept up the pressure” said head coach Pauw. “That’s fantastic. The goals can be a huge, huge step towards qualification. They give us a buffer.”
Actually, level points at the end of the campaign with, say Finland, will be separated by goals scored in the head-to-head matches. But let’s polish the crystal ball. Sweden’s 3-0 victory over Slovakia in Malmo leaves them eight points clear of second place Ireland, who have a game in hand, as qualification for the World Cup crosses its halfway stage, leaving the April and June windows crucial if McCabe and O’Sullivan are to feature at a major tournament for the first time.
Making some logical presumptions, Group A has become a battle between Ireland, Finland and Slovakia to reach the convoluted playoff system along with eight other European runners-up.
Sweden will almost certainly secure automatic qualification next April by winning in Georgia and at home to Ireland, which would leave Pauw’s charges two points adrift of Finland before their meeting in Dublin on September 1st. Again, that is presuming the Finns pick up six points in Slovakia and home to Georgia.
Clear as mud, Ireland’s next competitive fixture is away to Sweden on April 12th. That will be the true test of progress for McCabe’s rising Ireland. Or is that O’Sullivan’s rising Ireland.
One cannot be separated from the other.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Brosnan (Everton); Fahey (Liverpool), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Caldwell (North Carolina Courage); Ziu (Shelbourne), Littlejohn (Aston Villa), Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albio