Ireland need a miracle.
With just one game left to secure qualification to their first ever major tournament, Ireland must do the unthinkable and beat Germany to stand any chance.
Anything less than a win would realistically see them fall short as they would be relying on Montenegro to get a result against Ukraine which itself does not look likely. A win for Ireland would secure a qualifying play-off spot for the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championships.
To put into perspective just how daunting of a task this is for Ireland, Germany are widely regarded as the best in the world right now and they have the pedigree to back it up. Germany have yet to concede a single goal so far in qualification and have picked up a maximum of 21 points from 7 games, scoring 43 goals in the process. Out of their 72 previous qualifiers, they have won 70.
So how can Ireland pull of the unimaginable?
Germany operate in a very fluid 4-3-3 system with one player holding at the bottom of the triangle in midfield with two in front. The German full-backs push incredibly high giving their front three the ability to work inside the channels between the centre backs and full-backs.
With a midfield that includes the likes of Lina Magull and Dzsenifer Marozsán, who is universally considered one of the best playmakers on the planet, Germany are press-resistant and dominate possession. Under coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, Germany commit almost suicidal numbers of bodies forward, but they are confident in their ability to retain possession and suffocate the opposition.
With all that said, if Ireland want to stand any chance of securing a result, they need to be brave and take calculated risks. In the reverse fixture against Germany last month, both Katie McCabe and Leanne Kiernan both tracked the German full-backs all the way back to their own box. McCabe and Kiernan effectively were playing full-back themselves and gave Giulia Gwinn and Kathrin Hendrich no decision to make whether to bomb-forward or not.
Of course, both wingers will need to do their defensive duties as Germany cross the ball more than any other team. With the amount of players Germany commit into the box they are a real danger from crosses. However, there will come times when Ireland will need to be brave and trust the midfield three and defence to deal with the attack. With McCabe and whoever plays on the other side, if they can stay in the half-space and counter – there will be plenty of space to cause damage.
On the defensive side of things, Ireland will need to avoid trying to press and instead remain deep and create a cage around the central area. Germany are incredibly good at finding passes in between the lines and playing one-twos. Ireland need to create a low-block defending their box and closing the space.
Germany are one of if not the best counter-pressing teams in the world. It’s very difficult to get your head up and try and play through them. Ireland cannot afford to be caught trying to play through midfield or out from the back. If Ireland can break the press through dribbling with the ball or playing longer, there is a real chance of getting at the German defence.
Out wide is where the space will be and Ireland will need to make those runs in the channels and be direct and ruthless.
For all Germany’s brilliant interplay and possession – they are an extremely physically imposing and dominating team. Germany score plenty of headed goals and are a real threat in the opposition area. As is expected, Ireland’s best chance of scoring a goal also comes from set pieces and with Louise Quinn and Diane Caldwell you really wouldn’t bet against it.
The German’s defend zonally and that works to Quinn’s favour as she is one of the hardest players to defend with a running jump. Ireland need to target the delivery with pace into that six-yard box giving Quinn the chance to attack the ball and cause panic.
Let be honest. To beat this Germany side you need a lot of luck. They will always create chances and you need to hope that they are misfiring on the night. It is not going to be easy and Germany could well walk away clear winners.
Stranger things have happened in football and we could witness an early Christmas miracle tomorrow evening.
Republic of Ireland
Goalkeepers: Marie Hourihan (SC Braga), Courtney Brosnan (West Ham United), Grace Moloney (Reading), Niamh Reid-Burke (Peamount United)
Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Keeva Keenan (Celtic), Claire Walsh (Peamount United), Louise Quinn (Fiorentina), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Claire O’Riordan (MSV Duisburg), Eabha O’Mahony (Cork City), Isibeal Atkinson (Shelbourne), Aine O’Gorman (Peamount United)
Midfielders: Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Jamie Finn (Shelbourne), Denise O’Sullivan (Brighton & Hove Albion – on loan from NC Courage), Niamh Farrelly (Peamount United), Ruesha Littlejohn (Leicester City), Ellen Molloy (Wexford Youths), Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne), Emily Whelan (Shelbourne)
Forwards: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Heather Payne (Florida State University), Amber Barrett (FC Koln), Rianna Jarrett (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Goalkeepers: Laura Benkarth (Bayern Munich), Ann-Katrin Berger (Chelsea), Merle Frohms (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Defenders: Marina Hegering (Bayern Munich), Kathrin Hendrich (Wolfsburg), Sophia Kleinherne (Eintracht Frankfurt), Paulina Krumbiegel (Hoffenheim), Leonie Maier (Arsenal), Lena Sophie Oberdorf (Wolfsburg), Felicitas Rauch (Wolfsburg), Pia-Sophie Wolter (Wolfsburg)
Midfielders: Klara Buhl (Bayern Munich), Sara Dabritz (Paris Saint-Germain), Linda Dallmann (Bayern Munich), Laura Freigang (Eintracht Frankfurt), Svenja Huth (Wolfsburg), Turid Knaak (Atletico Madrid), Lena Lattwein (Hoffenheim), Melanie Leupolz (Chelsea), Sydney Lohmann (Bayern Munich), Lina Magull (Bayern Munich), Dzsenifer Marozsan (Lyon), Lea Schuller (Bayern Munich), Tabea Wabmuth (Hoffenheim)
Forwards: Fabienne Dongus (Hoffenheim), Johanna Elsig (Turbine Potsdam), Isbaella Hartig (Hoffenheim), Stina Johannes (Essen), Sjoeke Nusken (Eintracht Frankfurt), Carolin Simon (Bayern Munich), Sandra Starke (Freiburg)