It's 323 days since the Republic of Ireland's dream of making the 2022 Euros was ended by a 3-1 defeat to Germany.

That was a bitter pill to swallow, with the damage having really been done in the previous game away to Ukraine, where a 1-0 win for the hosts gave them the momentum to take the runners-up spot behind the Germans in Group I. (Kenny Shiels' Northern Ireland would subsequently cause a major upset by beating the Ukrainians 4-1 on aggregate in the play-offs.)

For Vera Pauw's team, there were tears in Kyiv and more tears in Tallaght Stadium in the aftermath of the Germany game as Ireland came to terms with a big missed opportunity.

Pauw's future seemed uncertain at that point, with the Dutch woman telling RTÉ Sport: "Let's first see if the FAI wants me still, that is the first question. And if they want me, I need to go home, rest, talk with my partner and then look into what I'm going to do.

"But my heart is here. I just broke down... and it's because I'm so proud of this team. Such a bunch of tigers."

Two months later Pauw signed a new two-year contract and immediately set her sights on qualification for the 2023 World Cup. Now, that quest begins.

A dejected Louise Quinn after the loss in Ukraine

Ireland host Sweden on Thursday night hungry for a positive start against the best team in the group.

The Girls in Green were third seeds going into the draw for the Australia and New Zealand-hosted World Cup, and were pitted against the Swedes, Finland, Slovakia and Georgia.

The nine group winners automatically qualify for the tournament with the second-placed sides entering into a play-off format.

Realistically Ireland are aiming for the play-offs but a win in Tallaght would be a serious shot in the arm and nurture loftier ambitions.

World No 2-ranked Sweden reached the final of the Olympic Games during the summer - and did the same in Rio back in 2016 - only to be beaten by Canada on penalties. After the Swedes beat the USA in the quarters in 2016, American goalkeeper Hope Solo called them "a bunch of cowards" in reference to their defensive approach.

These days, Sweden are a much more expansive outfit. In this year's Olympics they outplayed the USA in a very impressive 3-0 victory and they possessed a real swagger throughout the competition.

They bring two nominees for the Ballon d'Or to Dublin - Chelsea defender Magdalena Eriksson and prolific striker Stina Blackstenius - and several other high-class operators with excellent European pedigree.

Katie McCabe will get another close look at winger Fridolina Rolfo, who came off the bench for Barcelona in their 4-1 demolition of Arsenal in the Champions League last month; Juventus attacker Lina Hurtig offers height and pace; Sofia Jakobsson of Bayern Munich is creative and versatile.

Veteran captain Caroline Seger and Real Madrid's Kosovare Asllani both miss out through injury but there's no doubt Sweden have the depth to cope. They've already got two wins on the board, edging past Slovakia 1-0 before hammering Georgia 4-0, and will view the trip to Dublin as an awkward test, one which they will still expect to pass.

For Ireland, ranked 33rd in the world, this is a chance to tangibly measure any progress they have made over the last 10 months.

They were meant to play their opening match last month but with opponents Georgia placed on a red list by the UK government due to concerns over Covid-19, Pauw's squad would have been badly depleted. The tie was pushed back until June 2022.

Stina Blackstenius (L) is mobbed after scoring against Canada at the Olympics

This year games against Belgium, Denmark and Iceland - all strong teams ranked inside the world's top 20 - gave Ireland the opportunity to learn some precious lessons but they didn't pick up a win in any of those clashes. It was September's 3-2 friendly defeat of Australia that offered the most significant encouragement to the squad that they are capable of not just matching good sides, but turning them over.

Debutant Lucy Quinn was excellent against the Matildas, with the likes of Jamie Finn and Savannah McCarthy also rising to the occasion alongside the established quality of McCabe, Louise Quinn and Denise O'Sullivan.

It was a memorable night, but Pauw and her charges are grounded enough to know the Australians were missing some important players, and beating this motivated and in-form Sweden team in a qualifier game would be a much more powerful statement.

Indeed Pauw said earlier this week that this showdown will tell Ireland exactly where they are in terms of progress, albeit defeat would be far from disastrous. A win in Finland on Tuesday is more achievable, and arguably more important given Sweden are fully expected to win the group.

Still, Ireland are relishing the chance to take a swing at such a good side.

Vera Pauw has confidence her team are improving

"This game marks the beginning of a new campaign," said Pauw. "It also represents a point where a lot of hard work has led us to with friendly games against teams ranked in the top 20 of the world - Denmark, Belgium, Iceland and Australia.

"We believe that we have benefitted greatly from testing ourselves against quality opposition and that those games will help us in our pursuit of qualifying for the World Cup.

"The target for us is to qualify. We must believe in ourselves, work as hard as we can, and show the world that we are ready for this."

The game at Tallaght Stadium will have a capped attendance of 4,000 due to Covid-19 restrictions. It is, of course, a sellout and if Ireland pull this off you'll hear the din in the Dublin Mountains.

It would be a result that would turn heads everywhere and represent a giant stride forward for Pauw and her players.


Goalkeepers: Grace Moloney (Reading), Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Eve Badana (DLR Waves), Amanda Budden (Shelbourne)

Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Claire Walsh (Glasgow City), Diane Caldwell (North Carolina Courage), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Savannah McCarthy (Galway WFC), Éabha O'Mahony (Boston College), Áine O'Gorman (Peamount United)

Midfielders: Denise O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City), Niamh Farrelly (Glasgow City), Ciara Grant (Shelbourne), Aoibheann Clancy (Wexford Youths), Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne), Roma McLaughlin (Central Connecticut State University), Katie McCabe (Arsenal)

Forwards: Amber Barrett (FC Koln), Rianna Jarrett (London City Lionesses), Heather Payne (Florida State University), Leanne Kiernan (Liverpool), Saoirse Noonan (Shelbourne), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City)


Goalkeepers: Jennifer Falk (BK Hacken), Hedvig Lindahl (Atletico Madrid), Zecira Musovic (Chelsea)

Defenders: Jonna Andersson (Chelsea), Nathalie Bjorn (Everton), Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea), Nilla Fischer (Linkopings), Hanna Glas (Bayern Munich), Amanda Ilestedt (Paris-Saint Germain), Emma Kullberg (BK Hacken), Emma Berglund (Rosengard)

Midfielders: Elin Rubensson (BK Hacken), Filippa Angeldahl (Manchester City), Filippa Curmark (BK Hacken), Anna Anvegard (Everton), Olivia Schough (Rosengard), Hanna Bennison (Everton), Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (BK Hacken)

Forwards: Stina Blackstenius (BK Hacken), Rebecka Blomqvist (Vfl Wolfsburg), Lina Hurtig (Juventus), Sofia Jakobsson (Bayern Munich), Madlen Janogy (Hammarby), Fridolina Rolfo (Barcelona), Julia Zigiotti Olme (BK Hacken)

Follow the Republic of Ireland v Sweden via our liveblog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ 2 and the RTÉ Player, or listen to live radio commentary on RTÉ 2fm's Game On.