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Tuesday 14 August 2018

Hockey World Cup: Nerveless Ireland reach semi-finals

Ireland 0 India 0 (Ireland win 3-1 on penalties)

DELIGHT: Ireland players celebrate with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after their victory over India in a penalty shootout during the Women’s Hockey World Cup quarter-final in the Olympic Park, London. Photo: Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
DELIGHT: Ireland players celebrate with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after their victory over India in a penalty shootout during the Women’s Hockey World Cup quarter-final in the Olympic Park, London. Photo: Craig Mercer/Sportsfile

Shootout queens Ireland booked a place tomorrow's World Cup semi-final as a jittery display over the hour of hockey paved the way for a nerveless display in a tie-breaker.

The dream of medals for one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament at London remains alive after a nil-nil draw was decided 3-1 in their favour in the shootout.

Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran wrote herself an indelible place in Irish hockey history as she was beaten just once in the 'one-versus-one' battles.

Roisin Upton, Ali Meeke and Chloe Watkins also earned their slice of fame by beating Indian net-minder Savita, each running in from 25 yards and finding the target within the eight seconds allowed.

"Ayeisha is a rock," said breathless veteran Shirley McCay at pitchside afterwards.

"She is the goalkeeper of the tournament by far. When it went to one-v-ones, there was only going to be one winner."

Graham Shaw's team won despite the fact that they did not have a decent shot to trouble Savita during the match.

The Indians didn't do a whole lot better either on an evening at Lee Valley when defences were on top against the formless attacking on the Olympic pitch.

McFerran had just one save of note to make during this nerve-racked spectacle, going down to present an impenetrable barrier as Rani battered a shot on target at the one penalty corner of the game.

Coach Shaw vowed to make an attacking start and his players did their best to deliver, though good runs from Nikki Evans and Anna O'Flanagan yielded nothing in the circle.

The pattern was soon set for an encounter which was cagey throughout as the enormity of the occasion took its toll on forward creativity.

When the same two sides met in the preliminary stages of the tournament, Ireland lost no time in scoring, through O'Flanagan.

On this occasion it was well into the second quarter before O'Flanagan had the Green Army's first shot, feeding off a Katie Mullan cross, which was easily smothered by Savita.

The best Indian opportunity before the break came shortly afterwards but McFerran had the luxury of being able to watch Rani's effort go wide of her left hand post.

Errors

More of the same followed after the interval, as play was littered by Indian errors and mis-placed Irish passes, though Megan Frazer, Ali Meeke and Chloe Watkins occasionally threatened to break out of the midfield morass.

With less than 10 minutes remaining, their opponents - ranked 10 in the world to Ireland's 16 - forced the solitary penalty corner when Hannah Matthews bobbled the ball on to her own leg near goal.

But McFerran dealt with the set-piece as capably as she has coped with everything else thrown at her during this World Cup campaign, with Elena Tice on hand to tidy up and clear after the save from Rani.

Then McFerran wove her magic in the shoot-out to propel these Irish amazons into an orbit far beyond anything achieved by past teams from this island.

Light on her feet and decisive in the tackle, she was beaten just once, by Rheena Khokar, while Upton's precision, Meeke's cheeky nutmeg and finally Watkins patience (she used 7.5 of the 8 seconds permitted) secured the place in the world's top four.

Tomorrow's opponents Spain will hold no terrors for Shaw's charges, though they reached the semi-finals after taking the scalp of much-fancied Germany on Wednesday.

'We are delighted to get this far,' admitted 270 cap veteran McCay as the prospect of taking a medal from a major championship moved one inspirational place closer. 'We know Spain well and we will give it a go.'

Giving it a go has got this bunch of underdogs a long way so far, there's no reason to believe they can't take it one step further and on to the podium.

Ireland: A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, G Pinder, R Upton, C Watkins, E Colvin, H Matthews, A O'Flanagan, Z Wilson.

Subs: Y O'Byrne, M Frazer, E Tice, N Daly, D Duke, A Meeke.

India: Savita, G Kaur, D Ekka, Monika, Deepika, N Toppo, Lalremsiami, N Kaur, S Lakra, Rani, L Minz. Subs: N Goyal, Udita, V Katariya, N Pradhan, R Khokhar, N Kaur.

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