Brendan Graham reports from Tallaght Stadium
A first half goal from Diane Caldwell saw the Republic of Ireland record a narrow 1-0 victory against Greece in front of a crowd of 4,511 in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday evening.
The Girls in Green made the brighter start to the game with the first chance of the game falling to Ruesha Littlejohn. The midfielder did well to find space on the edge of the box having received the ball direct from Aine O’Gormans throw in.
Littlejohn turned first time and attempted a curling effort off her right foot towards goal. She couldn’t keep it down though and the ball just cleared the crossbar.
Ireland boss Vera Pauw will have been very happy by the start from her side early on and a fantastic ball over the top from Caldwell almost unlocked the Greek defence. Caldwell’s sublime delivery out wide to Harriet Scott allowed the full back to swing a teasing cross into the box but the ball swept just past the foot of Rianna Jarrett close to goal.
Another free flowing move got the crowd going just moments later. Denise O’Sullivan’s turn asked questions of the opposition goalkeeper. Jarrett with an early run down the left picked up a lobbed ball over the top from Ireland captain Katie McCabe.
Having picked up the ball Jarrett advanced further into the box before drilling a low cross towards Scott. Her mistimed shot saw the ball continue into the path of O’Sullivan who saw her fine effort palmed away to safety by the Greece goalkeeper.
The home side were enjoying most of the ball in the early stages of the opening half and it was clear they were growing in confidence with each and every passage of play.
A moment of uncertainty from Marie Hourihan in the Irish goal gave Greece their first real sight at goal. Hourihan rose high to claim Moraitou’s corner but dropped the ball on her way back to ground. Thankfully O’Gorman was there to hack the ball clear before an opposition white shirt could capitalise.
Half an hour gone and the promising moves kept coming the way of the girls in green. McCabe did well to find her Arsenal team mate Louise Quinn towering unmarked at the back of the box. The centre half got plenty of power behind her header but couldn’t quite get it on target with the ball
A rare chance for Greece came about through Sidira as the first half drew to a close. She picked up possession on the edge of the Irish box but she never got a hold of the ball at all and her tame effort left Hourihan to watch the ball sail wide and clear of any danger and the visitors rued that miss.
The deadlock was finally broken right on the stroke of half time by Ireland with Caldwell sweeping the ball over the line from Quinn’s knock down at the back post from a McCabe corner.
It was no less than Ireland deserved from a half they had completely dominated with an abundance of skill, flair and creativity close to goal.
The narrative of attacking play from the opening half continued early on in the second half with Ruesha Littlejohn going close to doubling the lead for Ireland.
Scott’s scooping ball over the top left Littlejohn through on goal. Her initial effort was saved by the ‘keeper and parried back out to the Ireland striker but her rushed follow up rose high over the crossbar.
Despite all of their possession, Ireland’s end product overall was lacking at times and Pauw decided to change things up a bit bringing on Amber Barrett for Jarrett with 20 minutes remaining.
With just the one goal separating the sides, Greece decided to make their move and switched to a much more attacking shape.
The difference was telling almost immediately with a string of chances falling the way of the visitors soon after.
Second half substitute Veatriki Sarri was involved in both chances playing provider for the first with Chatzinikolaou steering Sarri’s well timed cross just wide of the goal.
Moments later and it was Sarri with the chance to equalise for Greece. A speculative effort from distance worried Hourihan more than it probably should have as she saved at full stretch from Sarri’s effort at goal.
That was as good as it got for Greece as Ireland turned on the style again in the closing stages of the game. The impressive Littlejohn saw her effort flirt with the crossbar with Barrett finding the back of the net only to have her lobbed effort ruled out for offside.
She went close again moments later linking up well with McCabe before watching her curled effort fly just past the post.
Ireland managed to see out the five minutes of additional time to record a narrow 1-0 victory and crucially all three points to further enhance their chance of a top two finish and now face a trip to Montenegro next Wednesday looking to secure maximum points from their March series of games.
Republic of Ireland: Marie Hourihan; Aine O’Gorman, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell, Harriett Scott; Denise O’Sullivan, Niamh Fahey, Katie McCabe, Ruesha Littlejohn (Clare Shine 86), Heather Payne (Julie-Ann Russell 64); Rianna Jarrett (Amber Barrett 71)
Subs not Used: Grace Moloney, Courtney Brosnan, Jamie Finn, Niamh Farrelly, Claire O’Riordan, Kyra Carusa, Claire Walsh, Hayley Nolan
Greece: Anthi Papakonstantinou; Natalia Chatzigiannidou, Danai-Eleni Sidira, Despoina Chatzinikolaou; Anastasia Gkatsou, Eleni Kakambouki, Eleni Markou, Kyriaki Kynossidou (Anastasia Spyridonidou 84); Athanasia Moraitou (Thomai Vardali 65), Christina Kokoviadou, Sofia Kongouli (Veatriki Sarri 65)
Subs not Used: Evdoxia Gavriildou, Dimitra Giannakouli, Stela Kotsaki, Dimitra Karapetsa, Vasso Kydonaki, Grigoria Pouliou, Eirini Nefrou, Mikaela Paraschou, Danai Kaldaridou
Referee: María Dolores Martinez Madrona (Spain)
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Denise O’Sullivan
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