Ireland’s hockey stars fully focused on crucial tie against old rivals India

Victory over the team they beat in a shootout at the World Cup could seal quarter-final spot

Elena Tice celebrates after scoring a goal for Ireland against Germany in the 4-2 defeat at the Oi Hockey Stadium in  Tokyo. Photograph: Frank Uijlenbroek/Inpho

Elena Tice celebrates after scoring a goal for Ireland against Germany in the 4-2 defeat at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo. Photograph: Frank Uijlenbroek/Inpho

 

Hockey’s elliptical orbit of national awareness is about to swing as close as it did during the 2018 World Cup. It should be visible to the naked eye.

The women’s team and their battling, raised spirit, hearts-on-sleeves attitude and the character that has accompanied them around these past few years continues to grow according to the size of the tournament and challenge.

In Tokyo Ireland have lost two matches in Pool A against the Netherlands, the world number one side, and Germany, the world number two side while they have beaten South Africa.

What that all means is Friday’s fourth game against India, who Ireland beat in a shootout at the last World Cup in London, will almost certainly decide if they can turn their hand to another piece of history and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games.

Ireland have always kept this tournament simple. Win two matches, get into the top four of the six team pool and, as they did at the World Cup, play their way into the nervy knockout stages, where things can always take a strange turn.

India it is and India it has always been. Although the players came off the pitch against the Germans believing they were better than 4-2 scoreline, with short corner goals from Hannah McLoughlin and Elena Tice, they also knew that the targeted games were the ones that would satisfy their first goal in their first Olympics.

“Yeah, it’s kind of looking like that [beating India for a quarter-final] because of the result against GB today [GB beat India 5-1],” says Chloe Watkins.

Tokyo 2020

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“So you are looking at two results to get out of the group and that hasn’t changed. I think it is well within our ability to get another result.

“It’s just about trying to recover with the window we have, less than 48 hours. But we are going to be so up for it. The next two days are really what we were waiting for. It’s the fun part of it now.”

What Ireland showed against Germany and for periods of the game against the Dutch is their doggedness and an ability to live with even the best teams. As Watkins said after the match, Ireland “spooked” Germany when they came back from 3-0 down to 3-2.

The first two goals Germany scored were also untypical of Irish defending. A reverse shot from the crown of the circle from Lisa Altenburg that beat goal keeper Ayeisha McFerran and a drill into the circle where German forward Cecile Pieper too easily stepped off her marker to touch it in were soft, if expertly taken by both players.

Early goals

“We definitely matched them all over the pitch. They got two early goals and I think we weren’t quite switched on but we played ourselves back in. On another day I think the scoreline would have been different,” says Watkins.

“I think we deserved a point out of that. We were down to 10 [players] for a bit and you have to be conservative then. Yeah, they got a few corners but we managed to get back in the fourth quarter to get a goal back and put pressure on them. I think they were spooked at 3-2.”

India will be different from Germany. The Asian style is forward running, putting players into channels to attack defences with a high degree of skill and pace. There’s no mystery anymore to the way they will set up and if the mindset is as it always has been with India, it is to score more goals than the other team rather sit on a lead.

“We knew India was going to be a big game, a target game and we are very much focused on putting in a big performance,” says Watkins. “If we play half as well as we played today it will be a good game.

“It’s interesting because we haven’t seen them play much hockey in the last year and a half, so there was always going to be a few surprises this week with a few teams. But we know their kind of style. They are very direct.

“We have to give them the respect that they deserve. We got our first win the other day and we are looking for our second ever win and looking to reach our first ever quarter-final. That would be absolutely magic for us.”

As Watkins teammate Zara Malseed said on Wednesday, Ireland know how to “dig deep”. They’ve shown before that’s not to be underestimated.

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