Republic of Ireland manager Noel King wants fans out in force for the first leg of their play-off against Iceland at Dublin's Richmond Park saying it is a chance to reach "one of the biggest sporting events in Europe in 2009".
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Ireland have never been so close to qualifying for a senior women's finals but whereas they reached the play-offs as one of the best third-placed teams, Iceland were second in their group and only pipped to an automatic berth in Finland next summer by a last-game 2-1 loss in France. Iceland beat Ireland 4-1 in the Algarve Cup earlier this year and can call on the eleven-goal top scorer in qualifying, Margrét Lára Vidarsdóttir, but King is hoping a fervent home atmosphere can help his side against their more experienced opponents, with under-16s admitted free.
Chance to shine
"There has not been a more important play-off match for this country since Mick McCarthy led Ireland to the 2002 FIFA World Cup play-off against Iran to put us through to the finals in Japan/Korea," King said. "So far in this campaign, the fans have been outstanding and the numbers have been growing with every game. It would be a significant achievement for Ireland and a highlight in the players' careers as we would be up against the best players, all full-time professionals, and all of the matches will be screened live on television for one of the biggest sporting events in Europe in 2009."
King has a strong squad to pick from based around Arsenal LFC quartet Emma Byrne, Yvonne Tracy, Ciara Grant and Niamh Fahey, while Iceland are without ill goalkeeper Thóra Helgadóttir and suspended midfielder Dóra María Stefánsdóttir. Coach Siggi Eyjólfsson is keen for his side to become the first Iceland side to reach any senior final tournament after Thursday's second leg at Reykjavik's Laugardalsvöllur national stadium, and is certainly confident they can do better than their 9-3 aggregate loss to eventual runners-up Norway four years ago.
"We are going to give everything we have in these games and rewrite Icelandic football history," he said "Iceland have been in such play-offs before but always up against much stronger teams and this is the first time against a lower-ranked team. However we lost against [FIFA Women's World Rankings] No50 Slovenia but beat France, No7 on the list, so being higher ranked does not help us because these are very similar teams and this will just be like a cup final - anything can happen. We know Icelanders are interested in the games, 35 per cent of the nation watched our last game and we we will fill all the seats on 30 October."