Bonastre bumps Ireland into all-or-nothing Saturday date with Scotland

Women’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships
Pool C
Ireland 0 Spain 1 (B Bonastre)

Ireland will face an all-or-nothing date with Scotland on Saturday morning for European championship survival following a narrow 1-0 loss to Spain in Boom.

Having fallen out of the medal race on Tuesday evening with a 3-0 loss against hosts Belgium, this latest setback sees them in danger of falling out of the top tier for the first time since the competition’s inception in 1984.

Berta Bonastre’s thunderbolt midway through the first half was the difference, the striker rounding on the ball with a superb backhand shot.

fu1308223468It was one of precious few highlights for either side under teeming rain that saw the pitch slow up markedly, reducing any intended rhythm.

The best of the rest was a Lola Riera drag-flick that Nikki Symmons – for a third time in this competition – turned around the post.

For Ireland, after two early corner chances went a begging, their attack found the going tough. Gillian Pinder’s excellent interception was cut short by Anabel Flores’ neat touch while another of her shots fizzed across goal.

Naomi Carroll also had a pop or two in the second half but, as time wore on, Spain proved more and more miserly in defence. Maria Lopez de Eguilaz did get a strong glove to snuff out Lisa Jacob’s deflection with 16 minutes to go but it was the last shot in anger for either side as Spain comfortably held on for the three points.

Having already beaten Scotland, it ensures the Spaniards stay clear of the relegation places ahead of a game with already relegated Belarus.

For Ireland, they will fight to stay up on the last day of the competition for a second successive tournament.

In 2011, they showed character to defeat Italy 4-1. A similar performance will be needed this time against a Scottish side that have impressed in general play but lack killer instinct in front of goal. They earned 10 penalty corners against England but could only convert one while they also pushed Germany all the way in a 1-0 defeat on day one.

They recorded their first win of the campaign this morning when they saw off Belarus but missed a string of clear chances to make the game more comfortable after taking a 3-0 lead into half-time (for more see below).

Irish coach Darren Smith’s assessment:
“It was a pretty hard fought game and Spain are a good team. It was always going to be tough and close. We’re disappointed we didn’t get a result but if we had of [got a draw], it wouldn’t make a huge difference to Saturday. We’d still go into that Scotland game and need to win.

On the lack of chances created in the latter stages: “In the last quarter, you’d love to see a few shots on goal. When the pressure comes on, you can get tentative. You would love that we could drive on from midfield and have shots on goal but it didn’t happen for us.

What experience does he have of this kind of final game pressure: “Most tournaments have big pressure on the last game. You go through Olympic qualifiers and even the Olympic Games and those pressures come on. We work really hard to try and keep the players focused and help them play a nice tight game plan so they can get on the front foot and get the best out of them.

“At the moment, we have a couple of girls lacking a bit of confidence and are not on top of their game. We’ll work hard with them over the next couple of days to get us up for doing a job against Scotland.

On Scotland’s qualities: “They play a nice fluid structure and have been unlucky. If they could finish some of their chances, they would have some different results like against Germany. They also did well against England where they were the better team. They’re going to be tough but we knew that at the start of the competition.

** Photos courtesy of Frank Uijlenbroek/IHA, for more click here

** To read back on The Hook’s Live Blog from the game between Ireland and Spain, click here

Ireland: E Gray, C Sargent, A Speers, S McCay, M Frazer, N Carroll, C Watkins, N Atcheler, N Gray, A O’Flanagan, G Pinder
Subs: E Smyth, L Jacob, N Symmons, A O’Flynn, N Daly, N Small, G O’Flanagan

Spain: M Lopez de Eguilaz, R Ybarra, C Petchame, M Romagosa, C Guinea, L Riera, X Gine, B Perez, G Oliva, M Gomez
Subs: R Gutierrez, M Guajardo, B Bonastre, A Flores, G Comerma, L Ybarra, M Ruiz

fu1308223468Belarus 2 (V Shyntar, Y Mikeichyk) Scotland 3 (H Cram, A Howie, V Bunce)
Scotland clung on for what could be a vital win in their bid to avoid relegation from the TriFinance EuroHockey Championships in Boom, seeing off Belarus 3-2.

The Scots built an imposing 3-0 lead at half-time as they finally found their scoring touch. Holly Cram put them into the lead in the 21st minute from a clever penalty corner move and Alison Howie extended the advantage from close range when she redirected in a right wing cross. The third came from Vikki Bunce who smashed home from the top of the D after a pair of Maryna Navitsakya saves.

But Belarus fought back in the second half. They got a lifeline when Volha Shyntar cracked home a penalty corner in the 43rd minute and, from another corner, the ball hit a Scottish foot on the goal-line, leading to a penalty stroke. Yuliya Mikheichyk duly converted to reduce the gap to the minimum with 15 minutes left.

No equaliser was forthcoming, however, and Scotland earned the three points while Belarus remain without a point with one game left to salvage their competition.

Pool C standings: 1. Spain 6pts (+2) 2. Scotland 3pts (0) 3. Ireland 3pts (0) 4. Belarus 0pts (-2)

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