Hockey: Ireland women just one win away from World Cup
Goals from Evans and Pinder gave Graham Shaw’s side a 2-0 win over Poland
Nicola Evans of Ireland celebrates scoring their teams first goal with Deirdre Duke of Ireland during day three of the FIH Hockey World League Semi Finals Pool A match between Ireland and Poland at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for FIH
Ireland 2 (N Evans, G Pinder) Poland 0
Ireland’s women took a big step toward World Cup qualification thanks to a 2-0 win over Poland that sees them progress to the quarter-finals of the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg.
It was their first win of the campaign, backing up draws against higher ranked Japan and Germany, guaranteeing they will finish in the top four of the group.
Nikki Evans struck early on to set the result in motion before Gillian Pinder’s second half thunderbolt made the difference in a scrappy tie against an opposition set up to defend in numbers.
“It wasn’t the best performance but we’ll take it,” coach Graham Shaw admitted, safe in the knowledge his side now has three rest days before meeting England on Sunday.
More importantly, it gives them a quarter-final spot next Tuesday from which a win will earn a first World Cup ticket since 2002.
Early on, Poland were content to sit at half-court and defend deep but their hopes of keeping things tight were quickly blown out of the water. Chloe Watkins came into the line-up for the first time this week following an ankle injury and made an instant impact with a powerful ball down the middle to Evans.
Her marker got too close, allowing her to spin out of trouble and into the circle where she fired a low backhand shot in off the right post.
Three Irish penalty corners closed out the first quarter with Lena Tice’s rebound the pick of the efforts. From there, Poland attempted to come out of their shell but rather than opening the tie up, it made for a scrappy, error-strewn second quarter of middling quality.
Ayeisha McFerran was called on to make just one save of note in the second half which was of similar fare, diving low to top away Marlena Rybacha’s shot.
Pinder, though, did conjure up the one piece of real skill in the 39th minute to settle the tie, a glorious strike from top of the circle to the top of the net.
It’s quality appeared to shock umpire Suzi Sutton who initially ruled it dangerous but a video referral allowed the goal to stand.
The goal thoroughly deflated the Poles who offered next to nothing in the closing 15 minutes as Ireland held on comfortably enough.
Irish captain Katie Mullan was content her side showed enough good moments to get through the battle.
“We wanted to play at the intensity we played the first two games at and I think we did that in patches; other patches not so much. Maybe we left a couple of goals out there today but hopefully we can pick them up later in the tournament.”
The Irish men will look to emulate the women’s performances with a victory on Thursday when they meet Egypt at 11am. Win that and they will also be through to the quarter-finals and a step closer to the World Cup.
IRELAND: A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, G Pinder, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson.
Subs: Y O’Byrne, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, D Duke, C Watkins, G O’Flanagan.
POLAND: M Kucharska, A Katerla, M Wypijewksa, M Wessolowska, P Slawinska, M Rybacha, M Polewczak, N Wisniewska, W Wojtas, M Kruszynski, B Strubbe.
Subs: M Zagajska, D Skoraszewska, R Michalowicz, S Tatarczuk, W Blaszyk, K Grochowalska, A Gabara.
Umpires: S Sutton (USA), X Liu (CHN).