Ben Walker double gets Ireland off to winning start in Cardiff

Russia lack cutting edge as Ireland move within a win of World Cup qualification

Ireland’s Ben Walker celebrates scoring his second goal of the game during the World Cup qualifier against  Russia at the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho

Ireland’s Ben Walker celebrates scoring his second goal of the game during the World Cup qualifier against Russia at the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho

 

Ireland 2 Russia 0

Two goals sharply taken by Ben Walker set Ireland apart from Russia in the first game of their World Cup qualifying event in Cardiff on Thursday.

Walker struck in the fourth and 34th minutes in a match that swung from end to end, Russia just lacking any edge up front to threaten Ireland’s hopes of a place in the 2023 World Cup.

Ireland must also win their next match and reach the final of the tournament to book their place in the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India in January 2023.

For long periods the teams swept up and down the pitch, an aspect that may well have favoured Ireland. After a week of discussing resources in sport and women’s rugby particularly, Russia had just 14 players at their disposal, when the tournament permits 16 on matchday.

That would have played on legs, especially in the final quarter, two goals down and looking for some spark up front.

But both Ireland’s scores were beautifully taken with Walker’s first a typical striker steal. A hard backhand drive from the left side of the pitch from John McKee flashed across the goal with the Irish forward a step ahead of everyone else.

Getting his stick to the ball for the first touch at full pace, Walker turned it deftly past Ivan Ozherelev in the Russian goal.

The goal didn’t deter the hard running Russians, who never shrank away from throwing players forward and they forced Ireland into a defensive mode until the end of the first quarter.

Ireland’s Johnny McKee in action during the World Cup qualifier against Russia in Cardiff. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho
Ireland’s Johnny McKee in action during the World Cup qualifier against Russia in Cardiff. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho

Patient and playing a possession game, Ireland probably lacked circle penetrations in the second quarter with Russia coming close midway through, an Alexey Sobolevskiy effort running wide of the upright.

Conor Empey also snapped a shot over the bar after a turnover in the D but the sides went into the half-time break with Ireland leading 1-0.

It was shortly after the resumption that Walker turned up again in an almost carbon copy of his first goal.

Using pace and anticipation, he latched on to another drilled backhand across the goal mouth from Shane O’Donoghue before any of the Russian defence could react. Again the touch was perfect, the ball deflecting in for 2-0.

“Very relieved,” said Empey afterwards. “It think we were very solid. Looked at Russia over the last few months, so to get by that was good. Obviously Wales or Italy coming up next, that will be tough. A clean sheet is very nice, so now looking forward to Saturday.”

Ireland created more chances as the game progressed but so did Russia as it opened out in the latter stages as Ireland perhaps gave away possession too generously, which led to an exciting circle to circle match.

Ireland drew a brace of saves from a penalty corner and follow up on 62 minutes before they went a man down to a green card in the fourth quarter, which forced confident goalkeeper Jamie Carr into action.

The deserving 2-0 win sees Ireland safely through for the Saturday meeting with the winners of Wales and Italy, a win there securing a place in the final and a ticket to India in 2023.

IRELAND: J Carr, T Cross, J McKee, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J Duncan, M Robson, B Walker, L Cole

Subs: L Madeley, D Walsh, N Glassey, P McKibbin, C Empey, S Hyland, M Ingram

RUSSIA: I Ozherelev, N Yankun, S Matkovskiy, A Skiperskiy, E Artemov, P Golubev, I Loginov, A Borisov, A Sobolevskiy, D Starienko, I Zamalutdinov

Subs: D Kuraev, G Arusiia, D Bereza, D Zheleznyakov, A Dryanitsyn

Umpires: I Diamond (Sco), P van den Assum (Ned)

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