The final fixture in League B’s Group 1 Women’s Nations League features a battle of the British Isles, with Northern Ireland hosting the Republic of Ireland at the famed Windsor Park.
It will only be the third match Northern Ireland has played at the newly redeveloped ground. The first fixture was encouraging, a healthy win against Latvia, but the second perhaps sets the tone for what we can expect, with England romping to a 5-0 victory in April 2022.
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Can Northern Ireland Upset the Group Winners?
Northern Ireland will most certainly be entering the match with must-win pressure, with their slim hopes of finishing second relying on victory. The Republic of Ireland, conversely, will already be looking forward to the Christmas holidays – the team already has first place wrapped up.
Yet betting sites in Ireland are seeing plenty of money being put on the favourites, with the odds currently sitting heavily against the hosts. NI can place its hopes on their counterparts taking their foot off the gas, so to speak, considering results will no longer make a difference to their group placement.
The Republic of Ireland is already guaranteed first place in Group B, sitting seven points clear of Hungary with two matches left to play. Northern Ireland is languishing in third place after four matches played, one point behind the Hungarians.
NI no longer has fate in their own hands, but they must certainly get a result against Ireland if they are going to have any hope of coming in second. However, they will have to greatly improve on their previous performance against Ireland, with the first match ending a sorry 3-0 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Unexpected Results Give Hope
NI are undoubted underdogs going into the match, and not many people expect a result other than an Ireland win. But that’s the beauty of football, unexpected results happen regularly.
The Nations League has already had its fair share. England, World Cup finalists and Euro winners are feeling the effects of a heavy post-tournament hangover.
In their most recent Nations League fixture, Sarina Wiegman’s team was outclassed by Belgium, and now the Lionesses are dangerously close to missing out on Olympic qualification. The favourites do not always win.
Yet still, the Republic’s recent results will strike fear into any opponent. The team thrashed Hungary 4-0, beat Albania 5-1, and of course also dispatched Ireland 3-0 at Aviva. It seems one thing is certain: this match will feature plenty of goals.
Northern Ireland’s Worrying Form
NI’s form has not been positive in recent months. Both the press and fans are piling on the pressure, with the most recent 1-1 draw against Hungary giving the manager a little bit of breathing room.
Of course, before NI face the Irish in their final group match, they will have to deal with Albania first. That match will almost certainly have to end in an Irish win, otherwise, the final fixture may end up being nothing more than a glorified friendly.
NI can feel hopeful that they can use the match against the Albanians as a building block gearing up to the match at Windsor Park, with the first fixture ending in a 1-0 win.
Future Looks Bright for the Women’s Game
Even if Northern Ireland doesn’t pull off the upset, the women’s game in the country is on a definite upward trajectory. The location of the match is already indicative of that, with the team usually playing at the ‘lesser’ Crusaders’ Seaview grounds.
It’s a testament to the game’s growth in the last twelve months, with the World Cup seeing more interest than ever, with significant sponsorship deals signed by both players and clubs and the highest television ratings we’ve ever seen.
The Republic of Ireland is also doing what the men have been unable to do in quite some time: make a splash on the European stage. Recent results show this team can become a big player in the next tournament, having already had a taste of the World Cup, and local interest is understandably rising.
This match is not just a Nations League fixture, but also a unique opportunity to demonstrate the overall growth of the women’s game. This local derby certainly adds some spice to the Nations League, and we’re all the better for it.