Canada 2 Republic of Ireland 1
A 90th minute winner earned World No 7 Canada a narrow victory over a gallant Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team at the Cyprus Cup in Nicosia’s GSP Stadium today. It ensured that the Canadians, who will host next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, finished in fifth place at the tournament with the Irish, who were ranked 12th of the 12 competing nations, ending up sixth.
A massive 26 world ranking places separate the two sides at present but Ireland showed no fear as they grabbed a 12th minute lead through Ruesha Littlejohn and they held it until the 56th minute when Diana Matheson scored. Ireland captain and goalkeeper Emma Byrne, who equalled Ciara Grant’s appearance record of 105 caps today, made a string of superb saves before being beaten again the 90th minute when Sophie Schmidt scored from close range to deny the Irish another outstanding result after another magnificent display.
It was Ireland’s first defeat in seven games, a run that stretched back 12 months to last year’s Cyprus Cup defeat by Finland, and only their second loss in 12 games. Ireland’s next game will be on Saturday, April 5, at Tallaght Stadium when they face World No 2 and current European champions Germany as they resume their World Cup qualifying campaign.
For the fourth time this week, manager Sue Ronan had nothing but praise for her side after they once again defied the odds, and their world ranking of 33, to leave one of the top teams in the world breathing an audible sigh of relief at the final whistle.
“They were absolutely brilliant,” said Ronan of her players. “We got stuck into them from the start and could easily have been more than one goal ahead at half-time. They started with their strongest possible team and ended up having to make three changes at half-time to try and get back into the game.
“I thought we were bit a heavy legged at the beginning of the second half as four games in eight days began to take it toll but we still created an excellent scoring chance. We seemed to find our second wind after they equalised and we threw on some fresh legs as well and we went so close to bringing the game to penalties. There were only ten seconds left in normal time when they scored and they were so relieved to have got in front that they took the ball into the corner at every opportunity in injury time to run the clock down.”
The Ireland team showed three changes from the side which started against Switzerland with Megan Campbell starting at the back in place of Diane Caldwell while Dora Gorman and Ruesha Littlejohn came into midfield in place of Shannon Smyth and Denise O’Sullivan.
Goalkeeper Byrne was quickly into action with a save from Diana Matheson after five minutes but the Irish soon took control of the game and opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Ruesha Littlejohn pounced on a poor pass and cooly clipped the ball over the Canadian goalkeeper as Ireland scored first for the fifth time in the last five games.
The goal rocked Canada but they found Ireland hard to break down and were being continually caught out on the counter-attack with Aine O’Gorman unlucky to be stopped by the offside flag after one particularly excellent build-up while a Julie Ann Russell header from a Meabh De Burca corner was cleared by Zurrer.
At the other end Byrne was called into action once more in the half when she made a low save to the left from Schmidt.
Ireland held their lead at half-time and started the second comfortably with Russell twice going close in the opening minutes but the Canadians drew level on 56 minutes when Robyn Gale split the defence with a through ball and Matheson smashed it past Byrne from 12 metres.
Canada almost added a second when a header from a corner kick was headed off the Irish line by Campbell and Byrne made good saves from Schmidt and Sinclair, getting down well on both occasions.
The introduction of four substitutes showed the strength in depth that is now available to Ronan on her bench as Shannon Smyth, Diane Caldwell, Denise O’Sullivan and Aileen Gilroy were all introduced and Smyth also restored Ireland’s lead with a head that was saved by McLeod.
Ireland were just minutes away from sending the game into penalties but with just ten seconds of normal time remaining, Sophie Schmidt pounced on a loose ball in the box and drilled home what proved to be the winning goal from close range.
It was a sucker punch right at the end of what has been a wonderful Cyprus Cup tournament for the Irish during which they have taken on and matched four sides ranked much higher than them in the world.
“It has been a fantastic experience and is great preparation for the resumption of the World Cup qualifiers and the games against Germany and Russia,” said Ronan. “We’ve finished with one win, two draws, one defeat, have scored five goals, and have led in every one of those four games against high ranking teams from four different continents. The players are growing in confidence, they are improving from game to game and bringing things to a new level. They want to push on and hopefully that will show in the games in April and May in Dublin which are going to be very tough.”
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne (Arsenal) (C); Meabh de Burca (Galway WFC), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Megan Campbell (Florida State University), Karen Duggan (Peamount United);Dora Gorman (Peamount United), Ciara Grant (Raheny United), Ruesha Littlejohn (Glasgow City);Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United), Fiona O’Sullivan (SC Frieburg), Julie Ann Russell (Peamount United).
Subs Used: Shannon Smyth (Amazon Grimstad) for Gorman, Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City) for Littlejohn, Aileen Gilroy (Castlebar Celtic) for F O’Sullivan, Diane Caldwell (Avaldsnes) for Russell.
Unused Subs: Stephanie Roche (Peamount United), Siobhan Killeen (Raheny United), Niamh Reid-Burke (Raheny United), Rachel Graham (Raheny United), Emma Hansberry (Castlebar Celtic), Yvonne Tracy (Arsenal).