Italy set for Irish challenge

Italy and the Republic of Ireland are gearing up for an encounter on Saturday that could prove one of the most important of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying.

Italy and the Republic of Ireland are gearing up for an encounter on Saturday that could prove one of the most important of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying.

Close race
The pair are tied with Sweden on nine points in Group 2, though the Scandinavian side have picked up that total from three rather than four games. However, defeat of either side in the Sardinian town of Villacidro could prove extremely costly, especially for Ireland who have already lost at home to Italy and are yet to meet Sweden. Only the group winners qualify automatically for Finland, but while the runners-up are guaranteed a play-off place, only four of the six teams finishing third will join them.

Azzurre view
While the Azzurre are better placed that their visitors, their record of never failing to make the last eight of a UEFA European Women's Championship does give them something to live up to. Still, Italy coach Pietro Ghedin believes the pressure is on Ireland. "I think a draw could be a good result for us while Ireland must come here to win," Ghedin said. "They are physically stronger than us but we have more pace."

Irish aim
Ireland have never made the play-offs before but in recent weeks they have drawn 1-1 with the Netherlands and beaten Northern Ireland, Poland and 2006/07 UEFA Women's Cup winners Arsenal LFC, and in goalkeeper Emma Byrne, defender Yvonne Tracy and midfielder Ciara Grant can call on three players from the English champions. "There is never an easy international game away from home," said Ireland manager Noel King. "We spent a full day travelling to Sardinia yesterday and I know that the Italians will be eager to get a win here in front of their home support. However I'm not interested in excuses and we will be going all out for a win here."

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