Belgium end Ireland’s hopes in European Championships
Trio of goals from corners deny Ireland semi-final place
IIreland’s Nikki Symmons was required to use her cricket skills to bat an effort from a penalty corner off the line. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
A trio of corner goals proved their undoing, Anouk Raes, Anne-Sophie de Scheemaekere and Erica Coppey all on the mark in what was a comprehensive dismantling of Darren Smith’s side.
A win would have seen Ireland break new ground and reach the semis but, as 15 months ago when Belgium denied Ireland an Olympic, the composure of the hosts was at odds with the girls in green,
That win came despite being the red panthers being ranked lower in the world at the time and their rise continues unabated as this result, indeed, puts them into their first European semi-final.
Raes got the only goal of the first half while Nikki Symmons was required to use her cricket skills to bat another effort off the line.
On the counter, Ireland did have a couple of fleeting chances to level against the run of play. First, Alex Speers could not get enough power to her shot after a smart move by Audrey O’Flynn.
Lisa Jacob was denied by the post from the penalty spot after Anna O’Flanagan and Speers combined to win a stroke in the 51st minute.
Such opportunities were scarce, however, as Belgium pinned Ireland in their own 22 and eventually turned the screw. De Scheemaekere extended the lead to 2-0 with a direct strike in the 56th minute while Coppey followed up a rebound off Emma Gray’s pads to slip home the third goal with seven minutes to go.
It leaves Ireland to contest the relegation pool, facing Spain on Thursday afternoon before completing their competition early on Saturday morning against Scotland.
They probably need one win from those two games to assure they remain in the top tier of European hockey.
Ireland’s men, meanwhile, have their shot at breaking new ground when they meet England at 10.30am (Irish time) this morning.
A win would see them advance to the semi-finals but they will certainly be underdogs with England currently the world number four ranked side.
They are, however, much changed with just six of their Olympic squad retained with a large number of newcomers.
The sides met last month in Hamburg with a late Nick Catlin goal securing a 3-2 win for the English and Ireland have not beaten them since 2002.
IRELAND: E Gray, A Speers, S McCay, M Frazer, L Jacob, N Symmons, A O’Flynn, C Watkins, N Atcheler, A O’Flanagan, G Pinder. Subs: C Sargent, E Smyth, N Small, N Carroll, N Daly, N Gray, G O’Flanagan.
BELGIUM: A d’Hooghe, A-S de Scheemaekere, L Cavenaile, A Fobe, S de Groof, A Raes, L van Lindt, E Sinia, C de Vos, B Nelen, J Boon. Subs: J Vandermeiren, S Rummens, E Coppey, A Gerniers, L Versavel, M Beernaert, N Khouzam.