Ireland and Japan inseparable in HWL Semi-Final opener

Hockey World League Semi-Final
Ireland 1 (R Upton) Japan 1 (S Oikawa)
“Not the worst result” was Graham Shaw’s assessment of Ireland’s opening draw at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg as the split the difference with Japan, ranked four places higher on the world list.

Indeed, by almost all stats, the two sides were a perfect match with identical possession, turnovers and unforced error figures.

Roisin Upton’s drag-flick in the 44th minute was cancelled out by a carbon-copy seven minutes later from Shihori Oikawa for Japan. Beyond that, there was precious little to swing the tie either way.

Ireland in the pre-match line-up before their game against Japan. Pic: FIH

Reflecting on the tie, Shaw admitted as much: “When you have taken the lead, you are a little disappointed to concede with ten minutes to go but it’s the first game of the tournament and we are happy to get points on the board. It’s a long, long tournament and it’s not the worst start in the world.”

Japan had the better of the early exchanges with Akiko Kato firing wide from a tentative defensive error while Hannah Matthews had to excellently fish out a looping cross to avert danger.

Anna O’Flanagan and Nikki Evans had pot shots dealt with by the Japanese defence while Gillian Pinder’s loping run almost laid on a great chance foe captain Katie Mullan but the cross just eluded her stick.

Japan were, in the main, having the better of proceedings up to half-time before Shaw switched a few things around at the break which yielded some instant dividends.

O’Flanagan twice drew smothered stops from Megumi Kageyama before Ireland went in front when Matthews’ innocuous cross hit a foot. Zoe Wilson’s first up corner hit yielded a second set-piece which Upton whipped low down the glove-side for 1-0.

The lead was short-lived, however. Lizzie Colvin was sin-binned for a tackle in midfield and in her absence, Japan won their only penalty corner which Oikawa planted down Ayeisha McFerran’s right hand side.

Ireland could have won it in the closing minute with Mullan firing a powerful shot at Kageyama on the final whistle. For Shaw, he felt greater composure in the final third will pay dividends for his side in their next matches, starting with their tie against Germany on Monday.

“We were a little bit tentative and going backwards at times today. We need to be going forward and so decided to go a little bit more direct [in the second half] to put more pressure on their defensive line.

“We did that but got a little bit frantic at times and if we are a bit more composed, we will get more outcomes in the rest of the tournament.”

Chloe Watkins missed the tie due to an ankle injury which is currently being assessed but it is hoped she can return in the next game or two.

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

Japan: M Kageyama, Y Asai, E Nishikori, S Oikawa, N Naito, H Yuda, K Nomura, H Nagai, A Kato, M Segawa, M Kawamura
Subs: M Ichitami, N Ichitami, Y Mano, M Shimizu, Y Nagai, M Karino, A Tanaka
Umpires: M Ariffin (SIN), M Joubert (RSA)

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