Here we go, it’s almost time for arguably the biggest game in Irish women’s football history. Monumental, decisive, crucial, vital; it’s all those things. The bottom line is a result is needed.
The Girls In Green face Ukraine in a crunch qualifier in Kyiv, with it all to play for. It’s simple: avoid defeat and it’s on to the Euro 2022 playoffs, at least. One step closer to achieving the dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament.
A win or a draw will also keep Ireland in contention for automatic qualification for the finals tournament in England. But we won’t get too carried away just yet. It’s all about today, this “cup final” at Obolon Arena, with second seeds Ukraine proving tough, tough opposition.
Kick-off is 5pm and the game is live on RTÉ Two, but as always, we’ll keep you up to date right here.
We’ll go through everything else you need to know as our pre-match build-up continues right up until kick-off, but first, here’s a look at the starting team Pauw has selected.
As expected, West Ham’s Courtney Brosnan starts in goal after injury forced Marie Hourihan out. Reading’s Grace Moloney might feel hard done by here, considering her stellar club form. Two further changes to the XI that started against Germany: Leanne Kiernan and Niamh Fahey drop to the bench, Harriet Scott and Heather Payne start.
And here’s the Ukraine side they’ll face.
Iryna Sanina starts between the posts after their first-choice shot-stopper Kateryna Samson — who was there for their only major tournament appearance at Euro 2009 — tested positive for Covid-19. Atletico Madrid’s Natiya Pantsulaya, whose own goal proved the winner when these sides last met, starts at left-back, but one of their goalscorers at the right end in her clubmate Olha Ovdiychuk is absent.
Daryna Apanaschenko, their captain wearing 17, is one of their main threats.
Pauw is talking about this “key game” on RTÉ two now, and how her side plan to use a different approach today. “We need to have pressure forward,” she says, explaining the tactical decision behind Liverpool captain Niamh Fahey’s omission.
There’s a nice mixture of excitement and nerves going into this one, the Dutch boss says.
“It’s a good tension. These are the games we live for, the icing on the cake of a top sports career. If the result is not positive, you want to dive under the ground, but if it is, it’s the best feeling in the world.”