The Republic of Ireland's progress to the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ play-offs has been impressive and goalkeeper Emma Byrne is hopeful they can take another step forward and pip Iceland to the finals in Finland.
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Ireland only moved into the top tier of European female football for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup, picking up four points from eight qualifiers, but in the continental competition they racked up a tally of 12, and were unlucky not to hold Sweden and Italy. Third in their group, they have been drawn against Iceland in the play-offs, and Arsenal LFC player Byrne cannot wait for the first leg at Dublin's Tolka Park on Sunday.
"For everybody it's the biggest international game and it will be the pinnacle of my international career," Byrne told uefa.com. "We couldn't have asked for a better draw. We are comfortable playing Iceland, we are aware of their capabilities from playing them the last couple of years."
In their most recent meetings with Iceland, in the last two Algarve Cups, Ireland have drawn 1-1 and lost 4-1. But since the summer, Noel King's side have lost only narrowly in a three-game series against the United States – fresh from winning Olympic gold – and were beaten just 1-0 by Sweden on the night they discovered their play-off place was secure. "We've got some fantastic defenders who've played against the top clubs in the world and we've held America and Sweden to 2-0, 1-0," Byrne said "So we are comfortable defending well and solid at the back."
It helps they have a spine made up of players from 2007 UEFA Women's Cup winners Arsenal LFC. "Personally I am happy playing with Yvonne Tracy, Ciara Grant and Niamh Fahey, who are here at Arsenal," Byrne said. "They are really strong, solid players. But all the Ireland team have played together for a long time, we are comfortable together and in the last couple of years we've bonded as a team. It is a good time to be playing Iceland."
Byrne admits that Ireland manager King does like to raise the achievements of the Arsenal players as an example to the rest of the squad. "I know our manager will bring it up a lot about us winning the UEFA Cup," she said. "It's good for the girls to see the likes of us sitting there, and they are just as good as us and can play at that level."