Second half goals from Denise O’Sullivan and Stephanie Roche either side of a Lara Dickenmann penalty gave the Irish girls a deserved victory but South Korea’s 4-0 victory over New Zealand immediately afterwards meant the Irish finished second in Group 3, losing out on goal difference.
However, their reward is a play-off for fifth and sixth place against 2015 World Cup hosts Canada, who are ranked seventh in the world, on Wednesday in the GSP Stadium in Nicosia. Considering Ireland finished eighth in the competition last year and were ranked 12th of the 12 nations taking part this year it is a notable achievement by Sue Ronan and her players to end with a guaranteed top six finish irrespective of what happens on Wednesday against Canada.
Ronan, who was taking charge of the Women’s National Team for the 30th time today, was understandably delighted with the result, her biggest to date, and, more importantly, the performance.
“Absolutely, it really feels good to win this game today,” said Ronan. “We knew we were playing a very good team coming into this match as they have already beaten the first and second seed in their World Cup group and scored nine goals away to Serbia. They don’t concede many either and for us to come in and play as well as we did, score two goals and win the game against a team that are improving and are really on the up is a tremendous achievement by the girls and they deserve every bit of credit.
“Any time we were on the ball we were looking to play. We were looking to play through midfield, we were looking for players, we were not afraid to turn back and go the other direction if it was blocked. The composure all the girls are showing on the ball is just such an improvement on the last 18 months and the winning streak we are on has helped them and given them the confidence. They are realising now that they are capable of doing what we have been telling them for a long time they are capable of doing.”
Ireland have now stretched their unbeaten run to a record seven games having last tasted defeat on March 13 in the positional play-off against Finland at last year’s Cyprus Cup and that is their only loss in 11 games.
The starting line-up showed five changes from Friday’s game against South Korea but only two from the team which played against New Zealand last Wednesday. Karen Duggan replaced Sophie Perry at left back while in midfield Ciara Grant and Denise O’Sullivan returned to the starting line-up as did Aine O’Gorman and Fiona O’Sullivan up front.
A very strong wind blew down the pitch and was always going to have a huge bearing on the game. Ireland started against it in the first half but all the outfield players worked hard to protect Emma Byrne’s goal although it took a brave block on the goal-line from Karen Duggan to stop Ramona Betschart from putting Switzerland into the lead after 14 minutes.
Three minutes later, at the other end, Lara Dickenmann came to her side’s rescue when she got back to boot the ball off the line after Louise Quinn had outjumped Stenia Michel the Swiss keeper and headed the ball towards an empty net.
They were the best chances of the half although Shannon Smyth and Julie Ann Russell managed to get shots away on the rare occasions Ireland managed to get near the Swiss penalty area while at the other end Switzerland’s other best chance was an injury time free-kick from Ana Maria Cmogorcevic which sailed just over Byrne’s crossbar.
With the wind at their backs in the second half the Irish took the game to the Swiss from the re-start and it took them just four minutes to force a breakthrough when an excellent build-up, which had started with goalkeeper Emma Byrne, ended with Julie Ann Russell teeing up Denise O’Sullivan and she cooly slotted the ball home from ten metres.
The Swiss had come to Cyprus on the back of a flying start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with four wins from four games including wins over Denmark and Iceland who were at Euro 2013. They also managed to get through those four games without conceding a goal while scoring 17 but they were clearly rocked by O’Sullivan’s goal.
The former Cork Women’s player, who now plays for Glasgow City, almost added a second minutes later from a similar position but her goalbound shot was deflected for a corner. Ireland created a few more chances without really testing the keeper and gradually the Swiss got back into the game.
With Dickenmann pulling the strings the Swiss looked more threatening playing against the wind and it was Dickenmann who was adjudged to have brought down in the box by Aine O’Gorman in the 74th minute. She then brushed herself down before cooly slotting the penalty past Byrne.
It was the third time this week that Ireland had lost the lead but they reacted positively and Louise Quinn’s header five minutes later produced a flying save from the Swiss keeper but there were still nervous moments at the other end and Byrne had to come off her line to brilliantly block Cmogorcevic in the 88th minute.
It proved to be a significant save because two minutes later the Swiss were caught in possession outside their box and Ruesha Littlejohn drew the advancing keeper before squaring for Stephanie Roche to steer the ball home from six metres and deliver a memorable victory for Ireland.
“We are going to be playing one of the big-guns in Canada and it’s going to be a great experience for the girls,” said Ronan “It means we will have played four teams from four different continents, all ranked much higher than us, this week and that will certainly help them in the big games that lie ahead when the World Cup qualifying campaign resumes next month. “
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne (Arsenal) (C); Meabh de Burca (Galway WFC), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Diane Caldwell (Avaldsnes), Karen Duggan (Peamount United); Shannon Smyth (Amazon Grimstad), Ciara Grant (Raheny United), Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City); Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United), Fiona O’Sullivan (SC Frieburg), Julie Ann Russell (Peamount United).
Subs Used: Stephanie Roche (Peamount United), for Fiona O’Sullivan (73), Megan Campbell (Florida State University) for De Burca (83), Ruesha Littlejohn (Glasgow City) for Denise O’Sullivan (83), Siobhan Killeen (Raheny United) for O’Gorman (87).
Unused Subs: Dora Gorman (Peamount United), Niamh Reid-Burke (Raheny United), Aileen Gilroy (Castlebar Celtic), Rachel Graham (Raheny United), Emma Hansberry (Castlebar Celtic), Yvonne Tracy (Arsenal).