Longtime Ireland defender Diane Caldwell says that the team made their first World Cup “in spite” of former coach Vera Pauw.

The team parted ways with Pauw following the World Cup. Controversy had marred her final months with the team, which included butting heads with team captain Katie McCabe during the team’s World Cup run. Before joining Ireland, Pauw led the NWSL’s Houston Dash. A July report from The Athletic detailed Pauw’s behavior with the club, which players called “abusive” and “belittling,” though Pauw strongly denied the allegations.

Under Pauw, the team made its first appearance at the World Cup. But Caldwell said Tuesday that it wasn’t because of Pauw that the team made it. Instead, she says they weren’t put in a place to succeed by the coach.

“From my position, as a pretty experienced player, I don’t think it was up to the standard expected at international level,” Caldwell said. “I think the results and performances that we got were in spite of Vera being our coach.”

Instead, she says that a group of players who were “destined for success” happened to come together at the right time. She says players voiced their concerns about certain conditions following the 2022 European qualifying campaign, which was unsuccessful. Instead, Pauw was offered a contract extension.

“After the European campaign [in 2021], myself and Katie [McCabe] also reflected with Ruud Dokter [then the FAI’s high performance director] about certain aspects that needed to be improved and changed, but ultimately that fell on deaf ears and she got a contract extension,” she said.

“I think preparation for games could have been better, physical preparation, opponent analysis, match tactics, in-game match tactics, changes, systems of play,” she continued, noting that players had asked Pauw to “professionalizing” elements of the team’s preparations but that it “was hard to get change.”

Eileen Gleeson was tasked with leading the team in the interim as FAI looks for a new coach. Caldwell said Tuesday that the change has been welcomed, as well as additional investment from their FA.

“I’m very happy there is change and it gives us all a new lease of life,” Caldwell said. “Straight away, the level of professionalism. There are three new roles that have been introduced that we haven’t had before. That is a massive sign of intent from the association that we want to raise the level.

“It is a new beginning, and with the changes the FAI has made with the new roles, it just shows intent and standards are going to be raised. They have listened to the stakeholders in this team and realized that these girls are good but we can be getting even more out of them. They can be performing at a higher level and be achieving more success than what they have been.”

The Ireland women’s national team is parting ways with head coach Vera Pauw, who led the team to a historic World Cup appearance but also was dogged by controversy.

The Football Association of Ireland confirmed Tuesday that it will not offer a new contract to Pauw. She had led the team since 2019.

Under Pauw, Ireland made its first-ever Women’s World Cup appearance. But she faced questions and criticism over her behavior while a coach in the NWSL, and she butted heads with team captain Katie McCabe during the World Cup run.

The NWSL investigation into coaching misconduct found that the former Houston Dash coach had “shamed players for their weight and attempted to exert excessive control over their eating habits.” In July, a report from The Athletic detailed more of Pauw’s behavior, which players called “abusive” and “belittling,” though Pauw strongly denied the allegations.

In the final match of the World Cup, Pauw got into a public spat with McCabe over player substitutions.

“If Katie McCabe says that she wants a change that doesn’t mean [we change]. She’s not the coach, eh?” she said. McCabe responded to the barb with a zipped mouth emoji on social media.

Still, at the time, Pauw said she didn’t feel as if the 0-0 draw with Nigeria would be her last game with Ireland.

The decision not to extend Pauw came as the result of a six-hour meeting, which included a report detailing the team’s campaign dating back to September 2021. The report featured contributions from players, Pauw and her management team.

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill said in a statement about Pauw’s departure that they “wish her well” and thanked her for her “hard work and commitment” over the past four years.

“In particular, I wish to acknowledge the role she played in leading Ireland to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 where our women’s team made history and inspired a nation,” he said. “The future is bright for women and girls’ football and our focus now is building upon the work done by Vera and the historic achievements of our women’s team, which we see as a platform to support the next phase of the journey for the team, and more broadly the development of women and girls’ football in this country.”

No information has been provided on who could replace Pauw, although Eileen Gleeson has taken over as interim head coach, with Tom Elms assisting.

Just Women’s Sports is here with your daily World Cup Digest, breaking down all of the biggest storylines from each day of action in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s top World Cup news: Rose Lavelle available to start for USWNT

Rose Lavelle is cleared to start for the U.S. women’s national team against the Netherlands, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Wednesday. The 28-year-old midfielder is recovering from a knee injury, and she played her first minutes since April in the World Cup opener against Vietnam.

“Rose is fine, and I’m happy she’s available for selection,” Andonovski said.

Whether Lavelle will get the starting nod remains to be seen, but she said Wednesday morning that she feels “pretty good” and “ready for the second match.” She played just 27 minutes against Vietnam, but she generated 0.24 expected assists, the fourth-highest of any USWNT player.

“Every time we play them, it’s a very physical and intense match,” she said of the Netherlands. “They have a lot of different threats, they’re technical, good on set pieces, so I think it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re really excited for it.”

Lavelle brings a history of success against the Netherlands, having scored in the 2019 World Cup final. But she warned Wednesday that this matchup will look “completely different.”

“Both teams are completely different — new players, new coaches — so I think that it’s a fun memory, but we have a new mindset going into this game,” she said. “We know every time we play the Netherlands, it’s going to be a great game. They have a lot of experience on the field.

“I think it’s going to be fun.”

More top World Cup news: Canada battles back against Ireland

Ireland’s Katie McCabe scored her team’s first-ever World Cup goal in thrilling fashion, putting an Olimpico into the net in the fourth minute.

Yet after the rare goal conceded by goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, Canada pushed back to take a key 2-1 victory in Group B.

Canada’s first goal came late in the first half, when Julia Grosso – through wet and rainy conditions – put a shot on net that resulted in an own goal from Ireland. Adriana Leon added another goal in the 53rd minute that proved to be the game-winner.

Today’s top highlight: Spain’s Alba Redondo shares moment with her family

After scoring two goals in Spain’s 5-0 win over Zambia, Alba Redondo paused to soak in the moment with her family. It’s giving us all the feels.

Today’s results:

  • Japan 2, Costa Rica 0
  • Spain 5, Zambia 0
  • Canada 2, Ireland 1
  • USWNT vs. Netherlands — 9 p.m. ET

More World Cup news to know:

  • Spain and Japan are advancing to the knockout stage. Both won their second Group C matches in commanding fashion and will feature in the Round of 16 regardless of what happens when they face off in their third and final group-stage match.
  • Caroline Graham Hansen issued an apology to Norway coach Hege Riise for her comments after being dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s scoreless draw against Switzerland. Even in the apology, Graham Hansen still said she “strongly disagreed” with Riise’s decision to leave her out of the starting lineup. “I just want to apologize for my statements after the match. I’m just a human being with a lot of feelings,” she told reporters Tuesday. “Emotions got the better of me.”
  • Mary Fowler and Aivi Luik have joined Sam Kerr on Australia’s injured list for Thursday’s game against Nigeria. Both players sustained mild concussions in separate incidents during training Tuesday, according to Football Australia. Both have recovered but are following return to play protocols. Football Australia’s concussion guidelines from Jan. 2018 state that return to play protocols “provides for a minimum of six days before the player can play a competitive game.”

One Colombia defender took offense to Ireland abandoning Friday’s friendly between the two World Cup teams.

The pre-tournament tune-up was halted after just 20 minutes, as Ireland felt the play became “overly physical,” the Football Association of Ireland announced. After the match, Colombia’s Daniela Caracas told a fan that the Ireland team could “eat s—” and described Ireland players as “little girls.”

“They are little girls,” she told the fan, as reported by the Telegraph and the Irish Independent. “There was a tackle and they started to complain. They said they were going to see if they wanted to continue playing or not, so our coach said we are not going to wait for them to decide.”

Irish midfielder Denise O’Sullivan had to be taken to the hospital after a hard hit to her shin, which caused the match to be abandoned. Scans did not reveal any fracture, although O’Sullivan is questionable for the team’s first World Cup game against Australia on July 20.

Ireland manager Vera Pauw said she was “shocked” by Caracas’ comments, noting that her players had “feared for their bodies” due to the rough nature of sliding challenges by Colombian players early on in the match.

“It was something I had never experienced before in my 47 years being involved in football, not as a player, not as a coach,” Pauw said. “It started lively, a good game, normal, and then the atmosphere built up to becoming over-physical.

“Then there came a huge challenge on Denise, a challenge not within the rules of the game and she was in awful pain. I went to the coach of Colombia and I said: ‘I need help from you, we need to calm this down. We all want to go to the World Cup.’

Pauw took her team to the bench to calm down, which is where the decision was made to call the game, she said.

“The players were extremely upset and had fear for themselves. We are not a team who fear tackles or challenges,” she continued. “I took them away to calm things down, brought them to the bench. We discussed it and there was contact with the president and the CEO of the FAI.

“Collectively we knew it would not come right any more and if it went on we would put our players into a potentially serious situation. We had a calm discussion with the ref and they called off the game.”

Ireland women’s national team coach Vera Pauw was “abusive” and “belittling” to players during her time with the NWSL’s Houston Dash, several former Dash players told The Athletic.

Four former Dash players and three former staff members detailed allegations against Pauw, who coached the club during the 2018 season. Per the former players and staff members’ conversations with The Athletic, Pauw’s behavior included: making comments about players’ weights and eating habits; wanting “total control” over players’ training, meals and injury protocols; making disparaging comments made toward American and English players; and becoming physically aggressive in at least two instances.

The latest allegations come months after a joint investigation conducted by the NWSL and NWSLPA found that Pauw had “shamed players for their weight and attempted to exert excessive control over their eating habits.” The 60-year-old coach denied the allegations and claimed a double standard existed in the investigation.

“If I would have been a man, who would even care about something like that?” she said. “People would say, ‘It is you task to prepare the players to be the best on the pitch.’”

The former Dash players described Pauw as “micromanaging” their food intake and their training, and one former player told The Athletic that the NWSL and NWSLPA investigation did not paint the full picture of Pauw’s tenure in Houston.

“I don’t think (the joint investigation) was anywhere close (to telling the full story),” the player said. “With Vera, it was everything.”

Several people who spoke to The Athletic about Pauw did not take part in the investigation conducted by the NWSL and NWSLPA.

Pauw refuted the latest allegations and instead offered up her own allegations against those within the Dash organization, including an alleged death threat from a staff member due to a change in the training schedule.

“He threatened to shoot me in the head as I was taking his beer night away,” she said.

Pauw told The Athletic that she reported the incident to the police. But former Dash president Chris Canetti told the publication via email that while the organization “took internal disciplinary actions and other steps to directly deal with a situation regarding an employee,” he did not recall “any external involvement.”

When asked by The Athletic if she wanted “total control” in Houston, Pauw said “completely.” But she questioned why that would be an allegation of abuse.

“I will control the training loads of the players. I want the control that they actually get food. I gave up a lot of hours from the sports scientists – because I could do that myself – to save money to bring in food to take care of the players,” she said. “Injury protocols? That is my job… I am responsible for the health and safety of the players.

“It’s only a woman that can be criticized like that. Do you think Pep Guardiola would get this on his plate?

“Yes, I did that. And I’m proud of that because that’s my job.”

Pauw now coaches Ireland, which is heading into its first World Cup. She is “very happy” with the team, she said. Defender Chloe Mustaki applauded the atmosphere created by Pauw, saying the team has “the highest standards we have ever had in the camp.”

Ahead of Saturday’s friendly between Ireland and the USWNT, Ireland head coach Vera Pauw appeared in front of U.S. reporters for the first time since the NWSL-NWSLPA joint investigation was released in December. The report found that Pauw, who was the head coach of the NWSL’s Houston Dash in 2018,  had “shamed players for their weight and attempted to exert excessive control over their eating habits.”

Pauw has staunchly denied the allegations, including in Friday’s media availability.

“These allegations in the report are absolutely ridiculous and false. There is no truth in it, and I know I find a lot of safety in the truth,” said Pauw, who has been head coach of the Irish women since 2019.

“In that report, there’s things said like body shaming, which is absolutely false. If there’s one thing that I don’t do, it is body shaming. There is no scale in my dressing room, there’s no fat percentages taken.”

Pauw also claimed a double standard existed in the investigation. “If I would have been a man, who would even care about something like that?” she said. “People would say, ‘It it is you task to prepare the players to be the best on the pitch. It’s your task as a coach to educate yourself, to study and bring over your knowledge to your players.’”

Body shaming was a major topic in the NWSL-NWSLPA joint investigation and Pauw was not the only person accused. Other former NWSL coaches, including Farid Benstiti, Paul Riley, Craig Harrington, Rory Dames, and Amanda Cromwell were also alleged to have made comments to players about their weight and/or body image.

Also on Friday, Pauw addressed the impact of being named in the report given her own experience in the sport. Last year, the former Dutch national accused multiple Dutch football officials of sexual abuse.

“Can you imagine what it does to a person? Can you feel what that does to a person? … I have been raped. I have been sexually assaulted,” she said Friday. “I have perceived power abuse, intimidation, isolation, everything, the worst thing that a woman can get in an organization. I am absolutely aware of the power that I have as a coach.”

The NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation began in October 2021 after a report in The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made then-Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley. Following the release of the joint investigation, the NWSL in January permanently banned four coaches (Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke), suspended two others (Craig Harrington and Alyse LaHue), and said that six individuals (Pauw, Benstiti, Clarkson, Cromwell, Sam Greene, and Alise Reis) would only be eligible for future employment in the NWSL if they acknowledged responsibility for their wrongdoing, participated in training, and demonstrated a commitment to correcting their behavior.