Ireland start fast but are denied EuroHockey semis place by Spain
Roisin Upton gives Sean Dancer’s side early lead but they fall a goal short in Amsterdam
Hannah Matthews reacts after Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Spain in Amsterdam. Photograph: Frank Uijlenbroek/Inpho
Ireland 1 (R Upton) Spain 1 (B Garcia)
Ireland’s hopes of breaking yet more new ground in hockey were thwarted by Spain in Amsterdam on Wednesday, a 1-1 draw in their final pool game ending their quest to reach the semi-finals of the EuroHockey Championships for the very first time. Spain instead advance thanks to scoring more goals in their pool campaign, the sides having finished level on points and goal difference.
Needing a win, then, to pip the Spanish to the runners-up spot in their pool behind the Netherlands, Ireland were given a dream start by Roisin Upton when she scored after just three minutes from a penalty corner that had been won by her Catholic Institute team-mate Naomi Carroll. Their corners had largely misfired against Scotland on Monday, but this one was crisp and clinical, Upton’s drag taking a slight deflection off a Spanish defender before it flew past Maria Ruiz.
From there on, though, Spain dominated the game, and if it wasn’t for Ayeisha McFerran’s goalkeeping and some last gasp defending, they would have won comfortably.
They came to life as soon as they conceded, their equaliser coming in the 13th minute from a slickly worked corner, Maria Lopez picking out Begona Garcia on the back post from where she swept home.
Skilful and pacey, as Spanish sides tend to be, they remained in control, pressing high and aggressively to keep Ireland pinned back and their defence under relentless pressure. With the forwards and midfield dropping deep to help the defensive effort, there was rarely an out ball for Ireland, resulting in them consistently giving away possession cheaply.
Despite all that pressure, though, Spain couldn’t find that second goal - but they came mighty close on several occasions. In the third quarter, Lena Tice used her cricket skills to make a mid-air stick save from Georgina Oliva’s goalbound shot, and then McFerran made a smart save from Lola Riera’s penalty corner drag, getting down low to her right to turn the effort away.
Spain came closer still to taking the lead in the final quarter when Lopez’s corner strike hit the left post, having taken a deflection off Katie Mullan’s stick. Tice and Roisin Upton, meanwhile, combined to deny Lucia Jimenez on the line after Garcia had set her up in front of goal, while McFerran made a fine double save from Berta Bonastre and Alicia Magaz four minutes from time before saving Carlota Petchame’s corner strike in the final minute.
Ireland’s only opportunity of note after they scored came when Anna O’Flanagan won their second penalty corner of the game in the final quarter, but Shirley McCay’s strike was comfortably saved by Ruiz.
“A very disappointing result for us,” said coach Sean Dancer. “The way the game started we were in a really good position to get the win and get that semi-final place. But Spain are a good team and they did really well to block up the centre of the field. We just needed a little bit more quality through midfield and up front to hurt them a little bit more.”
“We’re just absolutely gutted,” said Upton, “after scoring early we just put ourselves under too much pressure, we needed to manage that phase of the game much better, we just weren’t clinical enough.”
A semi-final place would have secured a slot in the 2022 World Cup, but Ireland still have a chance of avoiding having to play in a qualifier later this year if they can finish fifth in this tournament.
World Cup co-hosts the Netherlands and Spain reaching the semi-finals means fifth place suffices for qualification, Ireland now having to battle it out in a four team pool for that prize - they will play Italy and, most probably, England or Belgium (they meet later today) on Friday and Saturday, but having already played Scotland, the sides won’t meet again, Ireland’s three points from that game carried forward.
Still plenty to play for, then, despite Wednesday’s disappointment.
Ireland: A McFerran, R Upton, N Evans, K Mullan (capt), S McCay, L Tice, N Carroll, H McLoughlin, L Holden, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan. Subs: L Murphy, M Carey, M Frazer, C Watkins, N Daly, H Matthews, D Duke.
Spain: M Ruiz, C Petchame, M Lopez, B Iglesias, L Riera, J Pons, B Garcia, X Gine, B Perez, G Oliva (capt), L Jimenez. Subs: M Garcia, L Barrios,
B Bonastre, C Mejias, A Torres-Quevedo, A Magaz, P Alvarez.
Umpires: L Delforge (Belgium), I Amorosini (Italy).