Pressure pays for hard-charging Irish
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The Republic of Ireland booked their place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with a 3-0 win over Ghana in the final match of the group stages in Tobago. The result means the Irish finish first in Group D, ahead of Brazil on goals scored, and will face off with Japan in the last-eight.

The Irish had the best possible start to the affair when in only the fifth minute they were awarded a free-kick some 40 yards from goal and wide out on the right. Surely, no one in their right mind would try a shot from such a position. But Megan Campbell did just that and caught out Ghana’s goalkeeper Margaret Otoo, who was way off her line. Campbell was mobbed by her team-mates and the St Francis defender celebrated by simulating knockout punches on all of her colleagues.

Shortly after the goal the game began to develop an end-to-end feel, with the Irish doing their gritty best to play the long ball and pressurise the Ghanaians, who were getting some joy out of their tricky ball skills and rampaging dribblers. Ireland’s high-pressure style was causing havoc in the Ghana rearguard, and in the 36th minute it paid dividends with a second goal. After taking too long to clear their lines, the African backline was dispossessed by Denise O’Sullivan who laid the ball on to Stacie Donnelly. She made no mistake with her shot to the top corner.

The Africans could have gone into the locker-room with a greater sense of hope and purpose had not they missed their best chance of the half in the 44th minute. Aileen Gilroy took down Beatrice Sesu in the corner of the box and the referee wasted no time pointing to the spot. Much to coach Abrahams Allotey’s dismay, however, Mary Essiful hit the ball the wrong side of the right post to groans from the crowd.

Ireland nearly made it three when the foraging O’Sullivan blocked a clearance by Otoo and looked to be clean in on goal in the 54th minute. Fortunately for Ghana, centre-back Regina Antwi was on the spot to make a last-gasp tackle. Up the other end, Rita Okyere had a good chance in the 65th minute, rounding her marker and forcing a brilliant diving save from Grace Maloney. A header from the resulting corner-kick was cleared off the line by Siobhan Killeen as the girls in green were looking stretched. But the Irish sealed the affair in the 77th minute with another long-distance cracker, this time from Gilroy.

The win is enough for the Irish to finish top of the section. Their quarter-final will pit them against Japan, second place from Group C. Ghana’s adventure in T&T is over and they join Canada heading for home.