The Republic of Ireland senior women's teams hopes of qualification to the FIFA World Cup 2011 finals suffered a blow in Krasnoarmeysk on Sunday with a 3-0 defeat to a powerful Russian side with goals from Elena Morozova, Valentina Savchenkova and Olga Petrova at the Rossiyanka Stadium.
Russia, currently ranked 17th place in the FIFA World Rankings, got off to an incredible start and they almost scored the game's opening goal seconds after the kick-off but to the relief of Irish keeper, Emma Byrne, the ball went over the bar for a goal-kick.
The home team settled quickly and they continued to attack Noel King's side frantically in the opening quarter and they opened the scoring after 12 minutes when midfielder, Elena Morozova ran on to a cross-field ball on the right hand side and she powerfully whipped in a cross-come shot which hit the top corner of the net, giving Byrne no chance of keeping it out.
Russia should have doubled their advantage in the 20th minute when a clever through-ball found striker, Elena Danilova and as she raced clear on goal, Irish keeper, Emma Byrne shot off her line and bravely plucked the ball from the lightening-fast attackers feet.
Conceding an early goal to the hosts gave the Irish an added impetus going forward and Aine O'Gorman almost grabbed a stunning goal against the run of play when Kate Taylor picked up the ball in midfield and the Bray native played a pin-point pass to O'Gorman on the right wing but as she chased down on goal, her angle narrowed and her shot was just inches over the Russian bar.
Russia doubled their advantage in the 51st minute with a stunning move from the front players. Elena Fomina gathered the ball just outside the box and she linked up with Savchenkova who evaded the defence and she made no mistake against Byrne from 8 yards out as she drilled into the net.
Ireland almost grabbed a goal back in the 66th minute when Meabh de Burca on the right wing, played a cutting pass to Irish striker, Fiona O'Sullivan who beat the offside trap but as she raced through on goal, the keeper managed to dive at her feet and avert the danger. Minutes later, O'Sullivan was testing the Russian defence once again as she burst into the box, surrounded by the Russian defence. She was hauled down by her marker but the referee wrongfully awarded Russia a free-out and booked O'Sullivan for diving which now means that she will miss the game in Kazakhstan after picking up her second yellow of the campaign.
Throughout the game, the Irish were under heavy bombard from the Russian attackers but the defence of Meabh de Burca, Niamh Fahey, Yvonne Tracy and Mary Therese McDonnell were outstanding under the circumstances.
As Ireland searched for a way back into the game in the final moments, Russia ended the contest in the 91st minute with a sublime individual effort from Olga Petrova who picked the ball up 30 yards from Ireland's goal and she ran at the Irish defence and slotted past Byrne from 10 yards out.
Noel King's side will be keen to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track and they will now travel to Taldykorgan where they will face Kazakhstan on Thursday, October 29th.
Speaking after the result, Irish manager, Noel King said, "Obviously we are disappointed with the result but Russia are one of the top teams in Europe and they are the number one seed in our group. We have been making continuous progress as a team but I feel that the gap between the 1st and 2nd seeded teams is a difficult one to close. While we have been making massive strides with the side, there is no doubt that the top teams in Europe are also improving with experience of their participation in major UEFA and FIFA tournaments.
I thought that the team performed brilliantly today with their effort and spirit but were just not able to close that gap against a top class side like Russia. That being said, we have an incredibly resilient bunch of girls in the squad who will not be giving up on World Cup qualification until the final kick of the ball in this group," said King.
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne, Meabh de Burca, Mary Therese McDonnell, Niamh Fahey, Yvonne Tracy, Jemma Connor, Ciara Grant, Aine O'Gorman, Kate Taylor, Fiona O'Sullivan, Stefanie Curtis.
Substitutes: Lynn Bradley, Sonya Hughes, Marie Curtin (on for Tracy, 81 mins), Michele O'Brien (on for Connor, 73mins), Shannon McDonnell (on for de Burca, 73 mins), Stephanie Roche, Julie Ann Russell.