Republic of Ireland at highest-ever position of 29th in World Ranking
Goalless draw in the Netherlands a reflection of their improvement
Bell: "I'm incredibly proud of the progress the team has made"
Republic of Ireland's women's national team could make history in 2018, now that their chances of reaching a major tournament for the first time are looking increasingly likely. Following an impressive 0-0 draw with European champions in the Netherlands last November, the Irish remain unbeaten in FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ qualifying.
The team's superb performances are reflected in the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, in which they climbed to their best-ever placing of 29th after earning 48 points.
"I’d say this is the strongest the team has ever been," said Karen Duggan in a recent interview with FIFA.com. "It just seems that things are clicking now. Obviously, Colin [Bell] coming as our first full-time manager has given us a boost, and he’s brought fantastic experience to the job. Also, the young players who enjoyed success at youth level are now coming of age and becoming mainstays."
Republic of Ireland in the FIFA World Ranking
Current position: 29
Lowest position: 36
Average position: 31
Duggan is right to mention Bell as an important factor in the rise of the Girls in Green. The 56-year-old, who recently extended his contract until 2021, took over as coach in February 2017 and has played a substantial role in the team's development.
"I'm incredibly proud of the progress the team has made over the last 11 months," the Englishman told the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) website after signing his contract extension. "The players are fantastic to work with, as they continually put in maximum effort to ensure their own personal progression and the progress of the national team.
"We've achieved some fantastic results so far, none more so than the draw against the European champions, the Netherlands. That result proves that this team can achieve at the highest level of international football, and hopefully, our progress over the next few years will lead to our first-ever appearance at a major tournament."
Bell is well aware of the next steps he must take to ensure his side continue to make progress – and not only in the World Ranking. In order to do so, he is hoping to rely on some traditional German virtues, having won the UEFA Women's Champions League in 2015 with 1. FFC Frankfurt: "I want to bring in the German mentality that I’ve learned, and which has benefited me a lot in my career. That mentality is to always be well organised, mentally very strong in stressful situations, and ruthless in the big moments."
A key element of a team's steady improvement is not only a winning mentality, however, but also a solid base of young players. In this regard as well, the FAI are relying on Bell's experience, and he has already handed several newcomers their debuts in the senior team.
"I've been incredibly impressed and excited by the amount of talent in Ireland," he said. "We've recently seen the likes of Tyler Toland, Amy Boyle-Carr, Zara Foley, and Eabha O'Mahony receive call-ups to the senior squad, and that shows my commitment to progressing the talent we have in this country."
The foundations for a successful future have therefore been laid.
Republic of Ireland women's national team fact file:
First game: 22 April 1973 against Scotland
First competitive game: 19 September 1982, also against Scotland (in a Women's European Championship 1984 qualifier)
FIFA Women's World Cup appearances: None
UEFA Women's European Championship appearances: None