Ireland one win away from World Cup after nervy Belarus win

Strikes from Lena Tice, Anna O’Flanagan and Niamh Carey stave off Belarus fightback

Niamh Carey celebrates scoring Ireland’s winning goal. Photograph: Giuseppe Fama/Inpho

Niamh Carey celebrates scoring Ireland’s winning goal. Photograph: Giuseppe Fama/Inpho

 

World Cup Qualifier (at Pisa) - Semi-final: Ireland 3 (L Tice, A O’Flanagan, N Carey), Belarus 2 (S Bahushevich, R Batura).

Their nerves might be a little frayed after their dramatic semi-final at the qualifying tournament in Pisa on Saturday morning, but Ireland are now just one step away from sealing a spot in next year’s World Cup after beating Belarus 3-2 to reach Sunday’s final (3pm Irish time).

Wales, who beat Scotland in a shoot-out after their semi-final ended scoreless, will be Ireland’s opponents in the final, the winners qualifying for the World Cup which will be co-hosted by Spain and the Netherlands next July. 

After a dream start to the game, when they took a two goal leading in the opening four minutes, Ireland were then pegged back to 2-2, and while they regained their lead on 48 minutes, they endured a nervy final quarter as Belarus pushed for an equaliser.

The Carey twins, Michelle and Niamh, had created the chances that gave Ireland the early advantage, Michelle’s drive in to the circle in the first minute resulting in a penalty corner that Lena Tice fired home.

Three minutes later, it was Niamh’s burst in to the circle that set up Anna O’Flanagan, the Muckross forward forcing the ball over the line in the scramble that ensued.

But in what was a frantic opening to the game, Belarus pulled a goal back just a minute later, Sviatlana Bahushevich slotting the ball past Ayeisha McFerran, and while there were no further scores until that last quarter, the pace of the game rarely dropped. Both sides continued to create openings with O’Flanagan, captain Katie Mullan and Niamh Carey all coming close to stretching Ireland’s lead.

Early pressure in the final quarter, through a series of penalty corners, paid off for Belarus when Ryta Batura made it 2-2, but within two minutes Niamh Carey had restored Ireland’s lead when she collected a long pass from Mullan and despite being floored by the goalkeeper, managed to spin and sweep the ball home.

The chances continued to flow for both sides, Roisin Upton coming close with a penalty corner drag, while smart defending was needed from Erin Getty and Sarah Hawkshaw to keep Belarus out.

Ireland held on, though, and are now just 60 minutes away from qualifying for the World Cup. As the qualifier’s top seeds, they’ll be favourites to get the better of Wales who are ranked 12 places below them in the world list.

Ireland: McFerran, M Carey, Upton, Mullan, Tice,, McLoughlin, Watkins, Torrans, Hawkshaw, O’Flanagan, N Carey. Subs: Murphy, Getty, Malseed, Duke, Curran, McAuley, Carroll.

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