World League Round Three
Ireland 3 (C Cargo, J Jackson, P Gleghorne) Belgium 6 (S Dockier 2, L Luypaert, own goal, T Boon, T Briels)
Ireland missed out on their first shot at qualifying for the World Cup this afternoon in Rotterdam as Belgium were too strong for Andrew Meredith’s side despite a much improved performance.
Having soaked up a lot of first half pressure, Chris Cargo’s goal late in the 33rd minute had Ireland in with a big shout at 2-1 down at the break. An early setback in the second half was countered by John Jackson’s drag-flick to make it 3-2 to the Belgians.
But a pair of Cedric Dockier goals and a superb Tom Boon effort, intricately related to the side’s excellent press, took the game away from Ireland and saw Belgium land the first place at the 2014 World Cup from this tournament.
Speaking to The Hook afterwards, skipper Ronan Gormley admitted his side came up against an opposition currently in some of their best form.
“We came up against an extremely strong Belgian team. I think that’s their 19th game undefeated in a row; we were looking to end that run but unfortunately weren’t quite good enough.
“We were under the cosh in the first half but did well to battle our way out of it with some decent defending in the D and then got back to 2-1 and 3-2.”
The three-man high press that Belgium employed has been one of their go-to tactics and played a critical role in today’s tie.
“In a high tempo match like that, there are always going to be phases where the game opens up,” Gormley added. “At times, we circulated the ball well and broke their press and were very effective. But there were those phases that weren’t good enough when we turned over possession and we paid for it.”
Ireland were caught twice in quick succession in the ninth and tenth minutes with Loick Luypaert’s low drag sliding between David Harte and the left postman.
Within seconds, Thomas Briels made it 2-0 after Simon Gougnard stole the ball and bounced his way through a number of tackles down the right channel, drifting left. He could not get a shot but Briels was in his slipstream and flicked home first time on his backhand.
Ireland were a little disjointed thereafter but eventually settled with Andy McConnell vocally important in midfield in setting a half-court press to limit Belgium’s space.
Dockier did go within centimetres of a third goal, though, somehow missing a close range chance while Cedric Charlier and John-John Dohmen’s good work was denied by David Harte.
A single goal deficit represented a decent return for the Irish but they were two down in the 39th minute when Luypaert’s reverse-stick cross was turned in by Ronan Gormley.
The reply was quick, though, as McConnell won a corner which was slipped left to John Jackson to score with a devilish flick on a rare occasion of being involved in the set piece in a shooting capacity.
That situation remained despite some jitters until the 50th minute when Tom Boon provided some magic on the left sideline before pulling on a cross which Dockier got a neat touch to.
Boon then scored the fifth after Shane O’Donoghue was triple teamed in midfield with Dohmen nicking the ball away and rolling into the striker’s path. He looked to be laboring and unable to reach the ball but, just at the end of his reach, got the most delightful stick under the ball on the dive and flip it over the advancing Harte.
Paul Gleghorne pulled another one back with 13 minutes left hen he surged forward to guide home Cockram’s cross but Dockier closed the tie out two minutes later from a corner rebound to see Belgium land the win and progress.
Spain’s 1-0 loss to New Zealand means they are Ireland’s next opponent in a critical game in the 5th to 8th place playoff where a win would still give Ireland a great chance of reaching the World Cup.
“We’ve played Spain a few times in the past and have a decent record against them. They have some key individual players who will have to be managed and looked after but we’ll attack our game plan aggressively and be confident going up against either team.”
Head coach Andrew Meredith was angry with the own goal situation which he said came at a key time: “The critical moment was conceding the third goal, and unfortunately it is another example of why the own goal experimentation is an unnecessary intrusion into our game, particularly after we changed the rules to try and stop balls being crashed into the circle.
“In our case, the third goal came against the run of play in our most positive phase of the tournament. How is that a reward for trying to play positive hockey, particularly when the camera positions are poor for video referrals at this tournament?
“We are no longer in control of the qualification process, and must now regroup as quickly as possible, take the positive steps we made forward, and look to give our best performance to date in the next game.”
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, C Cargo, A Sothern, P Caruth, A McConnell, T Cockram, P Maguire, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: J Bell, M Watt, K Good, J Bruton, S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue
Belgium: V Vanasch, A van Doren, J Dekeyser, J-J Dohmen, S Dockier, E Stockbroekx, F Denayer, S Gougnard, L Luypaert, T Boon, E van Strydonck
Subs: X Reckinger, F van Aubel, C Charlier, T Briels, J Truyens, T Cosyns