Profligate Ireland held by China in Hockey World Cup
Cox’s side must get a result against England to keep quarter-final dream alive in India
Alan Sothern celebrates his equaliser for Ireland against China. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty
Ireland 1 China 1
Not for the first time Ireland’s future lies with the numbers. After playing out a hugely frustrating draw with China, where two explosive second half minutes provided a goal for each team, Ireland go into Friday’s final pool game of the men’s Hockey World Cup in India needing a result against England.
A draw would be enough to put Ireland into a crossover game for a first ever quarter-final place. If the number one side in the world Australia put four goals past China, a draw between Ireland and England would suit both teams, who will know exactly what is required as theirs is the last match of Pool B.
China on two points have a zero goal difference, Ireland on one point have a -1 goal difference and England on one point have a -3 goal difference going down the home stretch.
As it now stands China and Ireland are in the crossover games and England in an elimination position. Everything is to play for.
Ireland have beaten England before in must win matches. The European Championship in 2015 came down to the two sides with Ireland coming from behind to win 4-2 and claim a first ever European medal.
As it was then, it will be on Friday with the Gleghorne brothers again facing each other, Mark playing with England and Paul with Ireland.
Tuesday’s match was tortuous for Ireland and became a succession of missed opportunities throughout the four quarters where they dominated possession, circle penetrations and shots on goal.
Ireland held the ball for 60 per cent of the game, had 27 circle penetrations to China’s five and eight shots on goal to three from the Chinese. The last time the teams met, Ireland won 6-0. It could again have been something like that in the Kalinga Stadium.
Ireland opened brightly holding possession with China falling back into their half. While David Harte and his side enjoyed possession it was captain Harte who was first forced to make a save.
Ireland settled into a holding game pressing into the Chinese half but without a great deal of penetration until a reverse stick deflection from Eugene Magee was touched wide and a reverse tomahawk from Nelson in the final minute found the side netting.
The second quarter frustrated Ireland further as they pushed even harder for the opening goal. The first penalty corner put low by Shane O’Donoghue was saved by Caiyu Wang before a reverse pass by O’Donoghue was deflected wide by Alan Sothern.
Referee Javed Shaikh confusingly indicated a goal but the ball had wrapped in the side netting. Matthew Nelson then went along the backline with Sothern missing a final touch while Mitch Darling blazed one across the mouth of the goal with no Irish stick on offer.
In all Ireland enjoyed 62 per cent of the ball and 16 circle penetrations in the first half, the sides going into half-time 0-0 and Ireland the most displeased.
It exploded to life on 43 minutes when Jonathan Bell was sin binned for a tackle and China awarded their second penalty corner. A beautiful spin and switch found Jin Guo, who catapulted his drag flick off the Irish upright for 1-0.
Within a minute Michael Robson made his way up the left and ripped across a reverse drive. Sothern somehow got his stick on the travelling ball for a wonderful deflection and 1-1.
From there on Ireland attacked in waves, Eugene Magee, Sothern, Nelson, Darling and O’Donoghue all causing havoc but not finding the net.
“We performed well but ultimately our lack of conversion in front of goal came back to haunt us,” said captain Harte. “All the statistics were in our favour but you have to take the opportunities presented to you.”
The World Cup is still in Ireland’s hands. One more game for an historic shot at a quarter-final, a path the women’s team took so sweetly in London last summer.
Ireland: D Harte, J Bell, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue, K Shimmons, S Murray, E Magee, A Sothern, M Nelson. Rolling subs: D Walsh, M Robson, M Bell, C Cargo, M Darling, L Cole.