Ireland denied in first World Cup shot but dream not over

Hockey World League Semi-Final, quarter-final
Ireland 1 (R Upton) Argentina 2 (D Merino, J Gomes)
Ireland’s women pushed Argentina all the way but ultimately fell 2-1 to the world number three side in their Hockey World League quarter-final tie in Johannesburg, missing out in their first direct shot at World Cup qualification.

Shaw’s charges upset Las Leonas’ rhythm for long periods to give themselves a shot at a shock result down the closing stretch, making things difficult at most turns.

Nicci Daly earned her 150th cap in the tie against Argentina. Pic: Getty/FIH

It was the second successive game that his side had come close to shocking one of the world’s top sides, coming two days after the Olympic champions – in their England guise – edged out Ireland 3-2.

For the first 25 minutes, Ireland put in a flawless defensive performance with Shirley McCay leading the troops, barricading the edge of their circle in the face of the world number three outfit.

But a pair of mis-steps in quick succession allowed Las Leonas to take the lead. Nicci Daly struggled to control a bouncing ball and Maria Ortiz stole in, her pass finding Delfina Merino whose turn wrong-footed both Yvonne O’Byrne and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran who had raced out of goal to cover. It left a simple finish on her backhand for 1-0.

The second half followed a similar pattern with Argentina controlling the play, pinning Ireland back. Their lead was doubled in the 40th minute from the first penalty corner of the game, Julia Gomes picking a low line to the backboard.

It drew Graham Shaw’s side quickly out of their shell and they struck back in brilliant fashion, Roisin Upton scoring from Ireland’s first shot in anger. She nailed a drag-flick from a corner won by Anna O’Flanagan’s willing run down the right.

O’Flanagan won another corner with six minutes to go to give Ireland a major chance to equalise but this time, Upton’s shot was charged down.

Shaw swapped out goalkeeper McFerran in favour of an extra outfielder in an all-out bid to grab an equaliser and a shoot-out chance but Argentina held firm to take the narrow win.

“We started a little tentative and allowed them to control too many phases in the first half,” Shaw reflected on the outcome. “The second half was a lot better and we put them under a lot more pressure as a result. We are very confident going into the playoffs and looking forward to the challenge.”

Zoe Wilson attempts to put in a tackle on Delfina Merino. Pic: FIH/Getty

While this first route to a World Cup ticket has closed, there is still plenty at stake later this week in Johannesburg as they go into the fifth to eighth place playoffs. Fifth brings a guaranteed spot in London 2018 while even sixth or seventh could be enough depending on how the continental championships pan out later this year.

That series starts with a tie against South Africa on Thursday with India and Japan the other sides involved in these classification ties.

Wednesday is the men’s turn as they face Spain at 12.30pm (Irish time) in the same quarter-final scenario with victory bringing a ticket to a World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Ireland: A McFerran, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, G Pinder, C Watkins, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke
Subs: Y O’Byrne, N Evans, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, L Colvin, G O’Flanagan

Argentina: B Succi, M Cavallero, M Fernandez, D Merino, A Habif, M Granatto, F Habif, R Sanchez, N Barrionuevo, J Gomes
Subs: A Gorzelany, E Trinchinetti, A Alonso, M Campoy, M Ortiz, J Jankunas, M Mutio
Umpires: S Sutton (USA), H-Y Kang (KOR)

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