It was described as a ‘must-win’ game and Ireland duly delivered. Three vital points and one step closer to qualifying for a first ever major tournament. After a last-minute equaliser by the Greeks in Athens, Head Coach Vera Pauw said, “We need to learn to dominate a game.”
In the build-up to the reverse fixture this week, the Ireland boss said that they “would do something different.” She spoke of the importance of video analysis and the team certainly did their homework.
In Athens, Greece implemented a compact 5-4-1 system. Compactness affords a stability in the defensive phase and the Greeks were able to frustrate Ireland and limit them to few chances.
This time around Ireland were prepared. They implemented a similar 4-3-2-1 formation but there were tweaks.
From the first minute, the pattern of the game was set. Greece sat deep, which afforded the Irish centre backs, Louise Quinn and Diane Caldwell plenty of possession. Ireland knew they would have to be patient and trust the process.
In the one-all draw in Athens, the Girls in Green tried to get in behind the back of the Greek defence but this time it was more calculated. In possession, Ireland moved from a 2-1 trio in midfield to a 1-2 trio. Denise O’Sullivan was given license to roam and use her energy and drive to influence the game higher up the pitch – also giving Ireland an extra body in the final-third.
With the centre backs seeing plenty of the ball, full-backs Aine O’Gorman and Harriet Scott were afforded the liberty of bombing forward. As a result, Katie McCabe and Heather Payne were able to come off their wing into the half-spaces causing more confusion in the Greek defence.
The unselfish running of Rianna Jarrett in-behind and down the channels was able to stretch the pitch for Ireland and created important space for the midfield in front of the Greece back five. Jarrett found joy with those runs and it almost led to the opening goal.
This tactical adjusment allowed Ireland to combat the Greek 5-4-1 system, giving them an overload in the midfield.
The move gave Ireland the opportunity to get on the half-turn in the pockets of space created between the lines and effect the game. Perfectly suiting the gameplay of Littlejohn, McCabe and O’Sullivan who are excellent on the swivel.
The three Greek centre-backs were apprehensive to go out and close-down the space in front of them because of Jarrett’s movement, while the Greek midfield were struggling to screen the space as Ireland began to outnumber them in the middle of the park.
West Ham United player Ruesha Littlejohn was the ultimate beneficiary of this and excelled with the space created. She was exceptional in the first half, finding those little pockets in the final-third giving the likes of Quinn, Caldwell and Niamh Fahey the chance to fire it into her feet.
In the second-half like in Athens, Greece adjusted their tactics. At first Greece Coach, Prionas, moved Danai-Eleni Sidira out of the back three and into midfield as he changed from a 5-4-1 to 4-5-1. It worked as Greece were afforded that extra body in midfield and Littlejohn found it more difficult to get free.
However still offering no threat going forward, Greece threw caution to the wind and went to a 3-4-3 formation.
Unlike the last time, Ireland didn’t panic and stuck to their principles. The defence maintained their high-line and ultimately held their nerve. Greece weren’t able to create anything of note from open play and Pauw will be delighted with her team.
Certainly a good sign as Ireland learned from their previous outing against the Greeks and found a way to win.
Set Pieces - Corners
Ireland deployed an interesting tactic on their out-swinging corners in the first half – two of these almost led to goals.
With Katie McCabe on corner duty, Ireland set up with four players on the Greek goal-line. For all money it seemed like the tactic was to create traffic in and amongst Papakonstantinou, the Greece goalkeeper, and float the ball on-top of the crowd - however it was a double-bluff.
Louise Quinn was the only Irish player not positioned on the line and Ireland used this tactic to exploit the Greek mix of woman-to-woman and zonal marking.
With the Greek defence focused on protecting their own goal-line, Quinn was afforded the opportunity to get a free run-on the player marking the zone on the Greek six yard box.
With no blockers or players in her way, Quinn’s prowess in the air was always beating any static jumper - especially with a run up. She did so – twice and on both occasions this almost led to an Irish goal.
An interesting tactic and great to see some innovation implemented by the Ireland.