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Ireland need attacking courage to upset odds

Eileen Gleeson has a tactical Rubik’s Cube to solve.

Tonight, the Republic of Ireland welcome reigning European champions England to the Aviva Stadium for a blockbuster Euro 2025 qualifier. It’s the first time the countries have met in a women’s football international since 1987, when a Kerry Davis goal earned the Lionesses a 1-0 win at Dalymount Park.

While Ireland fell to a 1-0 defeat against France last Friday night, England toiled to a 1-1 draw against Sweden. Sarina Wiegman’s team were – by their high standards – a little off. The Swedes had less possession but they were a menace on the break, and could have come away from Wembley with three points.

Ireland, meanwhile, had no complaints in Metz. France had 21 efforts on goal; the visitors had one, a tame Caitlin Hayes header late on. They didn’t win a single corner all game, and only a combination of poor finishing, excellent Courtney Brosnan goalkeeping and typically committed defending kept the score down.

There’s no great shame in that. The French are a brilliant outfit; powerful, quick and blessed with a remarkable pool of talent.

The conundrum for Gleeson is that Ireland have openly declared their intention to go toe to toe with the very best teams, and now they’re here, they must resist leaning back on the ropes in the hope their opponents will punch themselves out. It’s just not going to happen.

Courtney Brosnan had a fine game against France

Group rivals France, England and Sweden all have several gifted footballers who will do serious damage if they’re allowed to own the ball in your half for large periods of the game.

It’s hard to get the balance right between having a go and leaving yourself vulnerable, but Ireland will surely look back on the loss to France and understand they require more conviction going forward.

They didn’t lay a glove on Herve Renard’s side.

Gleeson started with four recognised centre-halves in a back five at Stade Saint-Symphorien. Aoife Mannion never looked comfortable in a left wing-back berth, while Emily Murphy was overwhelmed on the right side of midfield, being replaced by Megan Campbell in a half-time reshuffle.

Denise O’Sullivan and Megan Connolly ran themselves into the ground in the middle of the park but they were outnumbered in that area, left dizzy by a French carousel that spun mesmerising patterns of play all night as their pacey wide players bombed down the channels in twos and threes.

Essentially Ireland got stuck in a trap of their own making. Light on midfield numbers, they found it very hard to play through a wall of blue that spilled into the Irish half and stayed there for most of the night.

We’ll know later if Gleeson decides to stick with that formation or sacrifice a defender for another body in midfield, but either way, changes in personnel are likely. Jess Ziu is out with a hamstring injury and Amber Barrett is a doubt, though she did take part in training on Monday.

Elsewhere the fresh legs of either Tyler Toland or Ruesha Littlejohn could be summoned to solidify the engine room.

“We are not talking about being inferior, we are talking about being realistic,” Gleeson stressed in her pre-match press conference.

“I don’t think it’s the first time an Irish team has been tagged as an underdog, we know we’re a smaller nation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come and compete.

“We don’t ever speak about being inferior. We are realistic about the level of the opposition and then we adapt ourselves and use our own strengths within the squad to approach the game.”

Wiegman was manager of the Netherlands in 2017 when they failed to find a way past an unbelievably resilient Ireland in a 2019 World Cup qualifier. The Dutch had 81% possession and 36 shots on goal that day; but the spoils were shared.

She will tell her players to have patience at Lansdowne Road in anticipation of a low, stubborn defensive block.

England go though their paces during training at the Aviva Stadium

“We never underestimate anyone, especially Ireland,” Wiegman said. “They had a 1-0 result against France which I think was really good. They are a physical team, very well organised and can play counter-attack.

“They will try to take the opportunity moments of trying to jump out so we’ll be aware of that. Their defence will definitely be difficult to break down.”

Leah Williamson – the Arsenal centre-half who will make her first England start in a year tonight – offered some insight into how they’ll approach this clash when she added: “I think it’s going to be a test for us to move the ball, move them, you can see the battles. They have got key players up top but also a strong defensive line as well. I know all those girls really well so it’s going to be a good one.”

England will own the ball; Ireland will hold their shape.

Sweden did a bit of a number on the brilliant Keira Walsh a few days ago, bottling up the playmaker pretty effectively. Nullifying her threat will be critically important, and we may see Gleeson opt for both Toland and Littlejohn in the middle with O’Sullivan just ahead of them; though there could be a place for Izzy Atkinson on the left if McCabe gets used more centrally.

For England, Williamson looks set to replace Lotte Wubben-Moy at the back but Wiegman is unlikely to make wholesale changes. They’re strong all over the park, with a frightening attacking trio of Lauren Hemp, Alessia Russo and the mercurial Lauren James.

It’s another enormous ask for the Girls in Green.

They’ve a puncher’s chance – but only if they have the confidence to come out swinging.


Predicted lineups

Republic of Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Heather Payne, Caitlin Hayes, Louise Quinn, Anna Patten, Katie McCabe; Megan Connolly, Tyler Toland, Ruesha Littlejohn; Denise O’Sullivan; Kyra Carusa

England: Mary Earps; Lucy Bronze, Leah Williamson, Alex Greenwood, Niamh Charles; Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Grace Clinton; Lauren Hemp, Lauren James, Alessia Russo


Watch Republic of Ireland v England in Euro 2025 qualifying on Tuesday from 7pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, follow a live blog on rte.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app and listen to commentary on 2fm’s Game On


Listen to the RTÉ Soccer podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.


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