Ireland frustrated by China to set up England showdown on Friday

Men’s Hockey World Cup
Ireland 1 (A Sothern) China 1 (Jin Guo)
Ireland were left to reflect on a frustrating evening in Bhubaneswar as China’s compact gameplan saw them cling on for a draw, leaving the Green Machine to go down to the wire on Friday against England.

All the attacking stats were in the Green Machine’s favour but such numbers don’t decide World Cup ties and so a chance to move to the brink of a crossover spot slipped through the fingers.

“We performed well but our lack of clinicalness in conversion in the opponent’s D came back to haunt us,” David Harte said afterwards.

“If you look at the statistics, circle entries, shots on goal, it was all in our favour but if you don’t take what is presented to you, you know it is going to be difficult.”

Eugene Magee concurred: “Disappointing not to get more out of the game. Credit to China, they were resolute and hard to break down. We didn’t take our chances and that is what it comes down to. We created enough but there’s a lot to learn.”

The first half was particularly dominant against an ultra-defensive Chinese side, intent on packing their 23-metre zone.

An early goal could have settled things and it looked on the cards numerous times. Sothern spliced a shot on the spin over; another of his touches from a high Shane O’Donoghue cross was initially awarded as a goal by umpire Javed Shaikh before his colleague Simon Taylor pointed out the ball had gone wide.

Alan Sothern celebrates his goal. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Magee was a constant threat – playing with two broken fingers – but too often crosses and pull-backs from the baseline missed their mark.

In terms of the stats mentioned, China ended without a shot on goal and only three circle entries to Ireland’s 16 entries and five shots.

Perhaps crucially, Ireland only earned one corner in each half as numerous baseline attacks saw balls roll across goal and through the circle rather than taking either an attacking touch or defensive foot.

China came out more aggressively in the second half, winning a corner in the first few seconds which David Harte booted away.

Mitch Darling deflected in from Jonny Bell’s cross in the 38th minute but it was ruled out for the free not being moved five metres. Darling also floated a shot across the face of goal.

Then came the sucker-punch. Against England, they scored twice from just two shots and they were almost as efficient here, netting from their second attack in anger.

It came when Bell was sin-binned for a foul wide on the right, leading to a corner. It was switched to Guo who aimed low but an out-stretched defensive stick recalibrated the trajectory to the roof of the net for 1-0.

Ireland replied instantly with Michael Robson ripping a cross into the path of Sothern to turn home toward the end of the third quarter, the striker brilliantly getting his feet out of the way to turn it home.

Paul Gleghorne breaks a few tackles. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

They could not kick on from there, however, as China protected the scoreline, aided by overly fussy umpires that slowed the game frequently.

The big chance came from a penalty corner with two minutes to go. It was cleverly moved into Shane O’Donoghue’s path but his high shot was parried away by Caiyu Wang to safety and Ireland’s wait for a first World Cup win since 1978 continues.

Earlier, Australia struck three times in the last quarter to beat England 3-0. It leaves Ireland third in the pool after two games with a draw against England enough to see them through to the crossover games with Danny Kerry’s side requiring a win.

That will be easier said than done against the world number seven side; in 2017’s Europeans, the scenario was the exact same but England prevailed 2-1.

“We know what their threats are and where we can exploit them,” Harte said of that tie. “We will take our two days recovery, get our gameplan ready and go all guns blazing for the last game.”

Ireland: D Harte, J Bell, M Nelson, A Sothern, E Magee, K Shimmins, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey
Subs: M Bell, C Cargo, M Darling, M Robson, D Walsh, L Cole, D Fitzgerald

China: C Wang, X Guo, S Ao, Wenhui E, Y Ao, D Meng, J Su, L Su, T Du, Z Guo, W Ao
Subs: Q Guan, N Meng, W Su, C Du, Wenlong E, J Guo, Z Ao

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