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On Sunday the Republic of Ireland open their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup campaign at home to Slovakia, aware that with Germany and Russia in their group they have a mighty task to make it to Canada. Manager Susan Ronan, however, knows that "nothing is impossible in football" as she speaks to UEFA.com about challenging Germany and the experience her players have gained for club and country in recent years.
UEFA.com: Can Ireland get out of Group 1?
Susan Ronan: It's a tough ask. We're third seeds and for any third seed in Europe to qualify with only one coming out of the group is going to be difficult. I suppose it makes it a little more difficult when we're up against Germany, the team that nobody wanted, but it was a great opportunity to see Germany and Russia, who are also in our group, play [at UEFA Women's EURO 2013].
UEFA.com: Are Germany beatable?
Ronan: There's nothing impossible in football. You look at all the results in cup competitions and in the Premier League; how many times do a fourth division team beat a first division team? Anything can happen over 90 minutes in football. Once you go out properly prepared and play to whatever system you're asked to play, anything is possible.
But at the end of the day, we're under no illusions. We're playing a team that have maybe a million players in their country. They're fully professional, none of my players are professional. I don't get them together half the amount of times that the Germans are together. We don't have a club structure – a league structure – half as professional as the Germans, so it's an uphill battle but one we're relishing.
UEFA.com: You have a number of players in your squad with European experience at club level. How important are they in big games?
Ronan: Yes, a couple of our players at Arsenal, Emma Byrne, Yvonne Tracy, Niamh Fahey – Ciara Grant who was the captain for 17 years, we’ve lost her – those girls have played against Olympique Lyonnais. They've played against Wolfsburg. They have huge experience of playing against different cultures in Europe, so they're very important for us and that experience, we'll certainly tap into.
UEFA.com: How much has the expansion of what's now the UEFA Women's Champions League helped the development of the game?
Ronan: I think it's been great. It's giving lesser countries an opportunity, smaller countries, teams from other countries an opportunity to impress. Our own representative the year before last, Peamount United, made it to the round of 32, which was the first time we've ever had a team, men or women by the way, get that far in the Champions League. That was a great achievement and added to the profile back home. I think the Champions League expanding has helped national associations increase the profile of their own game domestically.
UEFA.com: How much do achievements like that help inspire the next generation?
Ronan: It's all about trying to create role models for young girls and to encourage them into the game. The national team played a home friendly in June against Austria and we had a great crowd – it was only 1,500 but that's a good crowd. It was a nice summer's evening and everybody was decked out in green and white.
We were 2-0 down but we came back late in the game to draw 2-2 and possibly could have won, and I think that created a great buzz. So all the kids were there seeking autographs at the end, and to see the accessibility of the players to the young fans, to see their faces – they were delighted to get photographs taken and to get autographs of their heroes.
I think that gives them dreams for the future and we've heard since from parents thanking us, saying their child went to bed happy that night in the Irish kit. They're the young girls we want to try and inspire to stay in the game – to play it and be the heroes of years to come. It's a national team that is going places.
UEFA.com: You played against France with a huge crowd recently and it was on TV. How much did you enjoy that experience?
Ronan: It was a fantastic experience for my team and one which most of them had never experienced before. Three or four of them at Arsenal have played in front of big crowds in the latter stages of the Champions League so it wasn't an issue for them. My concern was for the others that hadn't played in front of crowds like that and how they'd approach the game and react.
I think it taught them that they have to focus on their performance and not on the crowd, not to get distracted. You know if the atmosphere gets hostile, as it can do; you know in football if something goes against the home team, the crowd start to boo maybe the next Irish player that gets on the ball. I think they learnt to cope with things like that.
We also played two games away to the US on their [Olympic] gold medal winning tour and there were huge crowds, over 20,000, at those, so it's a great occasion. It's one that all national team players want to be at, so it was fantastic for them.
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