The Republic of Ireland women’s senior team came within eight minutes of a famous victory over Italy only for the Azzuri to blitz the Irish with four goals in the closing minutes in the UEFA Championship Group 2 Qualifier in Sardinia today. (Saturday)
A superb Kate Taylor effort gave Noel King’s side the lead after 13 minutes which they managed to hold onto until the 82nd minute, the relieved Italians scored four in the final moments to break Irish hearts.
It was the home side who started brightly and they took the game to the Irish early on, testing Emma Byrne on a number of occasions. Noel King’s side weathered the early storm and they took the lead in the 13th minute from a sensational goal from Kate Taylor. Italian goalkeeper, Marchitelli rushed her clearance and her kick-out landed at the feet of Kate Taylor who volleyed from 25 yards straight into the top-left hand corner of the net, stunning the large home attendance.
The goal added confidence to the Irish side who now seemed more comfortable on the ball and played some patient build up play for large periods of the second half. Italy always looked dangerous and midfielder, Gabbiadini almost brought the sides level after 37 minutes, she rifled a shot from 20 yards out and Emma Byrne somehow managed to get down to her bottom left and push the ball out for a corner.
In the second half, Italy seemed eager to pull back an equaliser with the large attendance becoming increasingly frustrated by the dogged Irish display, in the 50th minute Italian striker, Venusia was played through on goal with just Byrne to beat, the Arsenal keeper bravely dived at the attackers feet and averted the danger, in the process Byrne suffered a facial injury which caused the game to be halted for a number of minutes.
The Irish were dealt a huge blow after 53 minutes, Kate Taylor who was on a yellow card from the first half was harshly sent off for a dubious tackle, that left Noel King’s side with 10 players to defend their advantage for nearly 40 minutes.
Irish striker, Michele O’Brien was instrumental in Ireland’s attack and she almost scored a crucial second goal in the 70th minute, from a throw in to the box, O’Brien held off two defenders, turned and blasted the ball towards goal, Italian keeper, Marchitelli managed to get her fist and clear the danger.
In the latter stages, the Irish had their backs to the walls as they weathered wave after wave of attack as the back four of Boyle, Malone, Moran and Tracy marshaled their defence, snuffing out everything the Azzuri threw at them. The Italians finally got the goal they required in the 82nd minute, as an Italian effort was blocked in the box, Italian substitute slid onto the loose ball from six yards which managed to evade everyone in the box and find the back of the net.
A minute later, the Italians were ahead, from the right wing, midfielder, Panico unleashed a powerful shot which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and into the path of Gabbiadini who had the easy task of nodding into the Irish goal.
Two minutes later, the Italians killed off the contest, Gabbiadini made a bursting run down the right wing and she hammered home an unstoppable shot from just outside the box, giving Byrne no chance to stop the shot.
The Italians wrapped up the scoring in the 92nd minute, from a free-kick at the edge of the box, substitute, Pamela Conti, fired a powerful shot over the wall and under the cross-bar to make the score 4-1, a score which did not fully reflect the game in which either side had the chance to snatch victory until the very end.
Irish manager, Noel King was disappointed with the final result but thrilled with his sides performance, “I was absolutely thrilled with our performance until the 82rd minute, to lose Kate so early and Emma Byrne to suffer a black eye, what those ten players did, keeping this Italian team out for so long, they were well in control at all times and very well disciplined. In my career, I have never been in a position like this where we were so close to a famous victory and in the end, we got a trouncing, in terms of the scoreline. The final 10 minutes were nothing short of a nightmare,” said King.
King added, “I am very disappointed with the level of refereeing that we witnessed today, Kate Taylor was very harshly sent-off while we got very little if anything at all in terms of refereeing decisions. I can’t allow myself to believe it was anything else than just poor refereeing and I don’t think that it did anything to promote women’s referees in football.
"That being said, I am not one to make excuses, we played marvelously today, we performed at another level and we really worried the Italians for 82 minutes, they were in real trouble, the girls performance today was nothing short of amazing.
"When you look at the scoreline, 4-1, it seems like another football hard-luck story but in truth it is no such thing, I’m thrilled for our girls and we are still in contention for qualification in the group and we look forward to meeting Hungary for our next game in a couple of weeks time.”
Noel King’s side have nine points from five games and next on their schedule is a trip to play Hungary, whom they beat 2-1 last April in the opening group fixture at Tolka Park.
Group favourites, Sweden, are widely expected to win the pool but that scenario would not rule out Ireland’s prospects of qualifying for the Finals, to be staged in Finland in 2009.
The six runners-up and four third-placed sides with the best records against the nations finishing first, second and fourth in their groups will be drawn into five two-legged play-offs for the remaining spots in the summer Finals.
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne, Edel Malone, Sharon Boyle, Alisha Moran, Yvonne Tracy, Niamh Fahey, Ciara Grant (C), Aine O’ Gorman, Kate Taylor, Michele O’ Brien, Stefanie Curtis
Substitutes: Olivia O’ Toolle, Sonya Hughes, Marie Curtin, Meabh de Burca, Lynn Bradley, Emma Griffin, Noelle Murray
Italy scored four times in the last seven minutes to defeat the Republic of Ireland 4-1 in Villacidro and seize the initiative in UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying Group 2.
The hosts had to come from behind after Ireland opened the scoring on 13 minutes when Katie Taylor shot from outside the penalty area. The goal forced Italy into action but the visitors' defence held firm until the closing stages.
Twelve minutes into the second half Taylor was sent off and Italy's pressure finally told when Silvia Fuselli levelled on 83 minutes. Two minutes later Melania Gabbiadini added the second for the Azzurre, making no mistake from close range after Patrizia Panico's effort had hit the bar. Just a minute later Panico grabbed the third, converting a right-wing cross from Gabbiadini, while Pamela Conti rounded off the scoring with a free-kick in added time.
"We suffered but the victory was fully deserved," said Italy coach Pietro Ghedin. "This team is improving in all departments and we did a great job. The victory gives us hope of qualifying and allows us to continue to work with optimism." Italy are now three points clear of both their opponents and Sweden, who have two games in hand. The group winners qualify for next year's finals in Finland.