Ireland left frustrated as Cortes holds out Green barrage

Hockey World League Semi-Final, quarter-final
Ireland 1 (A Sothern) Spain 2 (R Sanchez, A Iglesias)

Ireland’s first chance at nailing a World Cup place were denied in horribly frustrating manner as they came up against an inspired Spanish goalkeeper in Johannesburg in their Hockey World League quarter-final.

Ireland and Spain pre-match. Pic: FIH/Getty

Quico Cortes kept out nine out of 10 penalty corners, including a clutch effort in the final minute, which – in combination with Spain taking two of their few chances – nicked a 2-1 win.

Reflecting on the tie, Irish coach Craig Fulton admitted as much: “It’s a tough loss in terms of the chances and the performance we had. We needed to score in that first half. The corners and the chances we are creating is good but they took their chances which we didn’t.”

It means they go into the fifth to eight place playoff to determine their World Cup hopes. Three penalty corners in the first half went converted as their tournament travails continued on that front while good moves from Alan Sothern and Eugene Magee also slipped by, the latter after a virtuoso run down the right wing.

Spain looked flustered, picking up three green cards in the first 12 minutes and they struggled to get much going against Ireland’s counter-attacking game, ending the half without a shot on goal.

But they got their heads together to improve markedly in the third quarter where all the scoring happened. A pair of brilliant David Harte saves put Ireland on notice, one which was not heeded as Spain went on to take the lead in the 39th minute from their first penalty corner, a Ricardo Sanchez rebound. The pain was compounded with John McKee taken off on a stretcher with a broken collarbone.

Matthew Bell on the final whistle as Spain celebrate in the background. Pic: FIH/Getty

Sothern levelled with a direct low drag-flick from Ireland’s fourth corner to make it 1-1 but, within moments, the Spanish were back in front when Alvaro Iglesias was left unmarked at the back post to guide in Sergi Enrique’s power slap after an unstopped corner.

For the remainder, Ireland pressed and pressed with their corner count rising all the time. It included a very strong shout for a penalty stroke when a back-stick blocked a rebound – the video review only yielded a further corner.

But Cortes made save after save – keeping out six shots in five minutes – to leave Craig Fulton’s side completely frustrated. The goalkeeper’s tenth block was the pick of the bunch, coming low down to his right with just a minute to go.

Their bid for a World Cup hopes are not completely out of the question, though, as they now move on to the fifth to eighth place playoffs with fifth assured of a World Cup place and sixth pretty much likely as well.

To put themselves in that frame, France – who lost 4-1 to Germany – stand in their way; they impressed in their early games against New Zealand (3-3) and Australia (3-2 loss) and beat Japan before their weaker performances against Spain and the Germans.

Jonny McKee and Sergi Enrique battle for possession. Pic: FIH/Getty

Ireland’s women, meanwhile, get back into action on Thursday at 1.30pm against hosts South Africa in the fifth to eighth place playoffs. While officially just fifth place comes with a direct ticket to the 2018 World Cup, sixth will also be confirmed due to England – the finals hosts – finishing in the top four in Johannesburg. That means a win for Graham Shaw’s side will stamp their ticket for the first time since 2002.

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, C Cargo, A Sothern, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, J McKee, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey, S Cole
Subs: J Bell, M Bell, M Nelson, N Glassey, S Murray, J Duncan, J Carr

Spain: Q Cortes, S Enrique, M Delas, P Quemada, V Ruiz, A Iglesias, R Santana, M Salles, J Romeu, M Serrahima, E Gonzalez
Subs: R Sanchez, D Arana, A de Frutos, A Beltran, M Fernandez, M Perrellon, I Torras

Umpires: G Greenfield (NZL), R van Eert (NED)

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