Ireland take major step forward in World Cup qualification bid with win over Poland

Hockey World League Semi-Final
Ireland 2 (N Evans, G Pinder) Poland 0
Ireland’s women beat Poland 2-0 in Johannesburg this afternoon to copper-fasten a place in the quarter-finals of the Hockey World League Semi-Final with a game to spare.

Goals from Nikki Evans and Gillian Pinder proved the difference for the Green Army who kept battling away against a Poland side intent on defending deep and making things difficult for Graham Shaw’s side.

Nikki Evans on the way to scoring the opening goal. Pic: FIH/Getty

Nonetheless, Ireland got the win they needed to add to draws against higher ranked Japan and Germany to assure them of a place in the top four of Pool A. They now have three days break before meeting England in their last group game on Sunday and then play a quarter-final next Tuesday which has a direct World Cup ticket on the line.

Against Poland, Ireland started brightly with the guts of the ball against a tight-knit defence. They took the lead in just the ninth minute when Chloe Watkins picked a great pass down the middle to Evans which she took on the turn, weaving inside two defenders before cracking home a backhand shot for 1-0.

Katie Mullan went very close to a second moments later while a trio of penalty corners before the quarter-time break also went a begging with Lena Tice’s rebound the pick of the chances.

Chloe Watkins returned from an ankle injury to make an impact. Pic: FIH/Getty

Poland showed more in attack in the second quarter, looking to profit on loose passes out of the Irish defence. It made for a scrappy second quarter with no real openings of note.

Evans and Mullan started the second half in lively fashion when they robbed the last defender but the latter’s shot was tame and kicked clear by Marta Kucharska.

The Poles did win a couple of penalty corners to create their best chances, one of which saw Ayeisha McFerran get down well to deny Marlena Rybacha.

But the tie, as a contest, was put to bed by Gillian Pinder with a brilliant strike from the top of the circle, angling her shot into the roof of the net after Mullan’s run and pass had squirted back out to top-D.

Gillian Pinder produced a special goal to make the win safe. Pic: FIH/Getty

Tice had to do well to block Weronika Wessolowska’s corner shot but after that, the remaining 20 minutes saw Poland launch only a tepid attempt to close the gap as Ireland got more control on the ball.
Speaking afterwards, captain Mullan said afterwards: “Absolutely delighted. We came here with Poland as our target game for three points so job done.

“We wanted to play at the intensity we played the first two games at and I think we did that in patches; other patches not so much. Maybe we left a couple of goals out there today but hopefully we can pick them up later in the tournament.”

Coach Graham Shaw concurred, adding: “It wasn’t the best performance but we will take it. There is a lot of pressure in these games and the most important thing is we got the win and secured the quarter-final place. We can rest no and look forward to playing England on Sunday.”

With Japan beating England 1-0, Ireland sit top of the group but have played a game extra than the three other sides just below them.

Ireland’s men, meanwhile, will look to emulate the women’s performance on Thursday when they meet Egypt at 11am (Irish time) with a win securing a quarter-final spot.

That game – along with all Hockey World League ties – will be broadcast live on BT Sport.

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

Poland: M Kucharska, A Katerla, M Wypijewksa, M Wessolowska, P Slawinska, M Rybacha, M Polewczak, N Wisniewska, W Wojtas, M Kruszynski, B Strubbe
Subs: M Zagajska, D Skoraszewska, R Michalowicz, S Tatarczuk, W Blaszyk, K Grochowalska, A Gabara

Umpires: S Sutton (USA), X Liu (CHN)

Hockey World League
Pool A: Ireland 2 (N Evans, G Pinder) Poland 0; Japan 1 England 0
Standings (played): 1. Ireland (3) 5pts (+2) 2. Germany (2) 4pts (+1) 3. Japan (2) 4pts (+1) 4. England (2) 3pts (+2) 5. Poland (3) 0pts (-6)

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