Republic of Ireland manager Sue Ronan is hoping to get the FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign off to a good start when her side face Slovakia at the Carlisle Grounds, Bray, tomorrow at 1pm.
Ronan's team have only lost once in five games during 2013 and will approach the World Cup qualifiers confident of being able to compete for a play-off place at least despite being drawn in one of the toughest European qualifying groups along with Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia.
“Having Germany, who are the current European Champions and World number two seeds, in the group makes it a difficult task for everybody,” said Ronan.
“Only the group winners automatically progress to Canada, with the best four runners-up vying for one extra place, so we will all have our work cut out for us.
“We are still a team in transition with a lot of young players starting into their first qualifying campaign and in the last year we have had to deal with the retirement of a few players who’d been around for the last decade, like our most capped player ever Ciara Grant.
“But I am looking towards the likes of our captain Emma Byrne and other experienced players like Louise Quinn, Meabh De Burca, Yvonne Treacy, Fiona O’Sullivan and Aine O’Gorman to lead the young exciting players that we have through this tough qualifying campaign.”
Ireland are currently ranked 34th in the FIFA World Rankings with Slovakia in 41st and with all but one of their squad playing for clubs outside of Slovakia they will present a tough start to Ireland’s campaign according to Ronan.
“Slovakia is a very good up and coming team. They may have been seeded in Pot 4 for this qualifying group, but to me they are a far better team than their seeding suggests.
“While they finished fourth in their Euro 2013 qualifying group, they had some notable results along the way including a 0-0 draw away to group runners-up Ukraine and two narrow defeats by group winners Finland. They also played Finland in two friendlies in advance of the Euros – they beat them 3-1 and drew 1-1.“
Ronan suffered a blow during the week when experienced defender Louise Quinn was ruled out of the game, and next Thursday’s trip to Croatia, with a hamstring injury and she won’t name her starting line-up until just before kick-off.
“Training has gone well this week. We’ve had good sessions in Carton House and at the Carlisle Grounds and there is a good mood in the camp. The players want to be competitive in this group and they know that they must get points on the board early.
“We got a great crowd in Tallaght for our friendly against Austria in June and if we get the same sort of large, noisy and passionate support tomorrow it will be a big help.”