Saturday, August 29, 2009

EuroHockey Nations: Ireland retain A status

Ireland 1 (Lisa Jacob) Russia 1 (Olga Shentsova)
In the final reckoning, the crucial statistic was that Ireland got the point they needed to survive in the A division, ultimately earning a fifth place to equal the country’s best ever finish in the competition – the other time being in Dublin in 2005.

A couple of players survive from that panel but almost half of Gene Muller’s squad were schoolgirls at that time and so survival was always the mantra for a side looking as far forward as the 2012 Olympics.

Gene Muller may have been frustrated with the method used in the final match to get to this point but, ultimately, staying at this level of competition is crucial for any London dreams.

Ireland, like the men’s team, are now guaranteed two shots at qualification and this panel, with an average age of 23, should be largely intact when that time comes.

As for the Russia fixture, Lisa Jacob capped a fine start to the game with an absolute scorcher, drifting in from the right wing.

Recognising the space on the left side, she effectively passed the ball to herself in smashed in a reverse-stick effort.

But with that buffer, the foot was firmly released from the pedal and Russia, needing a win to stay up, stepped up their press and bossed it territorially.

Their reward came in the 33rd minute after a series of errors in the circle saw Emma Gray – in her first outing of the tournament – called on to pull off a superb save from Svetlana Grigorieva. The rebound, however, fell to Russian skipper Olga Shentsova who found the corner of the empty net.

The second half saw the greens gain some measure of control in the early stages, with Roisin Flinn and Emma Smyth combining in a seven-player move to win a corner.

Eimear Cregan, meanwhile, almost played in Megan Frazer for a decisive goal in the 47th minute but the bouncing ball just evaded her stick and Ireland were almost made to rue the chances spurned.

A double-rebounded corner fell to Evgenia Sorokina with a clear sight on goal but she blazed over.

It was a warning shot for Ireland as, though they were giving up few chances, Russia still posed a threat, especially being just a goal away from leap-froging the Irish.

Jacob – Ireland’s star in attack today – zipped in another reverse before playing in Lizzie Colvin with a decent opening but both were unable to squeeze home.

Russia won two late corners but when Sorokina failed to stop the ball cleanly, Ireland were able to run down the clock; the final whistle greeted more with sighs of relief than expressions of joy.

Azerbaijan followed up with a 3-1 win over Scotland to confirm Ireland’s fifth place overall.

Speaking about the final outcome, Muller repeated his tournament mantra, saying “The number one milestone was always to stay up.”

He added, though, that it was more stressful than it should have been

“It was frustrating. We could have taken the game away from them but our finishing and in certain areas of the field, we didn’t play as well as we needed to. The result was we couldn’t put them away and that’s why the result was in the balance right to the end. It needn’t have been like that.

“We were sitting pretty until they scored, and they scored off a mistake. You’re alway going to make mistakes but we made consecutive errors right in front of our goal. We are young at the back, with only one player over 21 in our back six or seven. When you have that age profile, you have to live with some errors. But there were too many.

“There is a co-relation between age and things like decision-making. As they get more experience, they will get better. I don’t think nerves were an issue in this match. I just don’t think we played as well as we needed to and didn’t put the game away when we had the chance to.”

On the theme of the team’s youth, Muller did add that his side, averaging an age of 23, can only learn from the experience and will in a great position for the 2012 campaign.

“We lose very few players for 2012. With two years experience and maybe an extra 70 caps per player; then it’ll be a very different scenario.

“Other teams have attrition of players; our team won’t. We’ve taken great pain to bring in players who have to be part of the team three years from now. We brought them in early, we’re developing them. Other steam suffer that attrition and sometimes, we’ll gain as other teams getting worse.”

Ireland: E Gray, R Flinn, C Sargent, E Cregan (capt), E Clarke, E Stewart, B Cleland, S McCay, C McKean, N Symmons, E Smyth
Subs: A Speers, L Colvin, L Jacob, M Frazer, M Harvey

Russia: O Serezhkina, E Sorokina, G Timshina, E Cherkasova, M Nikitina, N Vershinia, O Shentsova (capt), Y Ashuurova, I Osipova, S Grigorieva, M Drepenkina
Subs: O Boyko, K Shamina, K Shumilinia, I Kuzmina, E Butina

* For the live match-ticker from the game, click here; and for Ondine Roche's photos, click here

Friday, August 28, 2009

Symmons cleared for Russia

Following a review, Nikki Symmons has been cleared to play in Ireland’s final EuroHockey Nations Championships against Russia tomorrow morning (7.30am, Irish time).

The midfielder received yellow cards against both Spain (dissent) and Azerbaijan (breaking down play) which made her liable to receive a one-game suspension and limit Ireland to four substitutes for their next fixture.

However, the review panel deemed that, due to the offences relating to totally separate incidences, Symmons received only a written reprimand and a warning that should she incur a further yellow card, a one-game suspension for herself and Ireland would carry over to the next ranking tournament.

The Loreto woman will now likely take her place at left midfield as Ireland look to equal their best ever finish in European competition with a win over Russia guaranteeing fifth place – a position Ireland reached once before in Dublin in 2005.

Margins between glory and despair are tight, though. A draw will keep Ireland in the A division while a loss means Ireland could be relegated to the second tier of European hockey, depending on the outcome of the match between Azerbaijan and Scotland.

* The geo-block that meant Irish viewers were unable to see live streaming of matches in Amsterdam on has now been lifted but will only be available for the semi-finals and final matches.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s match with Russia is not going to be streamed live but there will be a live ticker on the front page of or on The Hook’s own match-tracker at

RTE will show an hour-long special on Ireland's campaign on Monday, August 31 on their OB Sport programme. Check for the exact broadcast time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

EuroHockey Nations: Ireland 2 Azerbaijan 1

Ireland 2 (Nikki Symmons, Alex Speers) Azerbaijan 1 (Zhun Mammadova)
Ireland moved to the verge of survival in the A division of European competition for 2011 thanks to Alex Speers’ 64th minute goal against Azerbaijan today.

It means Ireland need just a draw in their final relegation pool game against Russia on Saturday morning (7.30am, Irish time) to survive – always stated as the primary goal from the tournament for Gene Muller.

It was a massive result for the Irish in the face of a second-half onslaught by the Azeris who had cancelled out Nikki Symmons’ 24th minute drag-flick with a stunning Zhun Mammodova shot early in the second half.

Azerbaijan looked more likely to get the vital goal but, with numbers committed to attack, Emma Smyth found herself with the ball on halfway with a four-on-two situation in front of her.

She offloaded to Speers who fed Megan Frazer in shooting position. Her strike was half-blocked but had enough pace on it for Speers to slide in ahead of goalkeeper Seda Kheyirova.

Her touch was half-blocked and dropped just over the line where it landed on Lisa Jacob’s foot. It led to a few muted complaints and a slight delay before umpire Eskina confirmed the goal.

Ireland soaked up more pressure in the closing minutes, including a pair of penalty corners which Bridget Cleland was instrumental in keeping out.

Early on, Ireland were very much the dominant force. Symmons was the threat-in-chief, firing the only three shots in anger of the first half.

Her first corner went just over but her second zipped between the lineswoman Hee-Zhung Abbasova’s legs. And the Loreto woman nearly made it 2-0 with a vicious aerial soon after, clearing the bar by a matter of inches.

Symmons would later pick up a second yellow card of the tournament – this time for not retreating at an auto-pass with two minutes to go – and so faces suspension for Saturday’s game with Russia.

Azerbaijan faced a similar situation today, playing with only four on the bench as Mi Kyung Aliyeva was suspended based on video evidence from a group game against England for a violent confrontation.

It reduced the Azeri’s Korean-born contingent to four for the game. While those players have been in situ since the 2007 European championships, an eye-opening interview with the country’s assistant coach Franklin Dikmoet in Wednesday’s Het Volkskraant newspaper – the Dutch equivalent of the Irish Times – revealed that further players had been naturalised from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The article, entitled “They think they can buy a World Cup place”, explains how team talks are conducted in three different languages among other claims that have caused waves in the Dutch press pack, with Dikmoet effectively signing off on his time with the Azerbaijan team.

Those claims aside, Azerbaijan blended well after the interval to dominate proceedings and could have levelled long before Mammodova’s strike.

But the Irish stood firm and took their chance when it came for a vital victory.

Gene Muller admitted his relief at now being in pole-position to avoid relegation: “I’m very relieved, it was a different kind of pressure; playing for survival rather than going for a World Cup.

"They’re an extremely difficult opponent to prepare against, they’re technically very good, very direct and pose a threat from anywhere because of their long hits, making them always two or three seconds away from scoring.

“I was delighted with our defensive effort. It was an enormous game for us, given the context and the weight of the occasion. Obviously, I’m just delighted and proud of the girls.”

Looking forward to the Russian challenge, he does not buy anything into June’s 4-0 victory in Kazan: “It has no relevance, whatsoever. That was Russia’s first international match in a long time. Since then, they’ve played ten times so it will make no difference for them. We must guard against complacency.

“We scored all our goals in a 15 minute patch and everything we put on target, we scored. It’s really academic to me and the team as well.”

Ireland: M Goode, R Flinn, E Cregan (capt), E Clarke, E Stewart, B Cleland, S McCay, N Symmons, E Smyth, L Jacob, M Harvey
Subs: C Sargent, C McKean, A Speers, L Colvin, M Frazer

Azerbaijan: S Kheyirova, F Makayeva, L Chegurko, D Mirzaliyeva, K Aliyeva, M Aliyeva, L Druzhinnia, S-Y Rustamova, B-K Alizada, I Jafarova, Z Mammadova
Subs: E Muzaffarova, V Shahbazova, H-Z Abbasova, M Ahmadova

EuroHockey Nations Championships:
Relegation pool results:
Ireland 2 (N Symmons, A Speers) Azerbaijan 1 (Z Mammodova); Scotland 1 Russia 1

Relegation pool table (points/goal difference): 1. Ireland 4pts (+1) 2. Russia 2pts (0) 3. Scotland 2pts (0) 4. Azerbaijan 1pt (-1)

Saturday match schedule (both Irish time): (7.30am) Ireland vs Russia; (9.30am) Scotland vs Azerbaijan

* For more of Ondine Roche's pictures from the game, click here; for a (somewhat sporadic) live match-tracker from the game, click here

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Irish relegation schedule confirmed

Ireland's schedule for their relegation dog-fight sees them pitted against Azerbaijan at 1pm (Irish time) on Thursday afternoon before tipping off the women's classification final's day at 7.30am (Irish time) on Saturday.

The series was decided late on Tuesday as the Netherlands late surge of goals against the Russians meant they swapped positions in the Pool A standings with Azeris.

Quite what to make of the opponents based on tournament form, though, is difficult to tell in an incredibly one-sided tournament to date with all four semi-finalists relatively untroubled.

All four sides begin the relegations play-off stages with a point to their name, though the Russians and Azeris have a goal to their name - the only divider in an intense scrap.

Ireland have the form guide over Russia, having raced into a 4-0 half-time lead in Kazan at the Champion's Challenge II in June but Azerbaijan are a more unknown quantity. The side includes five naturalised Korean players as well as a trio of experienced players in their late 30s.

Their physical approach was in evidence against England earlier though they absorbed a huge quantity of pressure, falling back to within their own 25. However, a ranking two places than Ireland suggests they are no pushovers.

Elsewhere in the women's competition, the Netherlands completed their group with an immaculate record: three wins, three clean sheets and 24 goals to be installed as tournament favourites. They play Spain in the semi-finals while Germany face England.

On the men's side, Wednesday's highlight is Belgium against England. Both had gilt-edged chances to beat Germany who, on balance of play could well have been eliminated. Sport, though, only matters in the results column and so the Germans are all but through despite rarely getting out of first gear.

In Pool B, Holland need a point from their tie with France to progress. The French, though, have shown a massive jump in form from their Champion's Challenge II and Celtic Cup outings but will be without the talismanic Freddie Soyez due to a hand injury. Poland play Spain with the Iberians needing a point to top the pool.

Women's relegation playoffs (Irish time):
Thursday: (1pm) Ireland vs Azerbaijan; (11am) Russia vs Scotland
Saturday: (7.30am) Ireland vs Russia; (9.30am) Azerbaijan vs Scotland

* See below for a highlight reel from the Dutch women against England. The penalty stroke incident featured is part of a strange series of events. Goalkeeper Beth Storrey picked up a nasty shoulder injury, ultimately ending her involvement in the tournament. She stayed on for the stroke as England had no sub keeper on the bench and a new ruling states you do not get time stopped for a goalkeeper to be padded up.

As such, she decided not to contest the stroke. Former Den Bosch clubmate proceeded to zing the ball just over her shoulder. Kate Walsh then put on a jersey as a kicking full-back before sweeper Sally Walton came on as a replacement goalkeeper with seven minutes to go.

EuroHockey Nations: Ireland 1 Spain 4

Ireland 1 (Cliodhna Sargent) Spain 4 (M Cruz, O Piniero, E Termens, S Bonastre)The final reckoning shows Ireland missed out on a first ever EuroHockey Nations Championships’ semi-final due to their 4-1 loss to Spain. Though their performance certainly did not merit that margin, results are what count and Ireland’s inability to put away more of their corner chances meant the required win would always be just beyond reach.

Spain took their chances, Ireland did not and therein lies much of the reason Spain built up a 3-1 lead, leaving Muller to take the last resort and replace Mary Goode with a kicking full-back for the last 15 minutes, Cliodhna Sargent reprising the role she played in the Olympic qualifier against Italy.

It was an eventful game for the Cork Harlequins’ defender who scored the first Irish goal of the tournament in the 17th minute. It levelled Maria Cruz’ early corner goal in slightly fortuitous fashion.

With Nikki Symmons in the sin-bin for what was described as an “expression of disappointment” at an umpire’s decision, Sargent stepped up and clattered the post with straight hit. The ball rebounded onto the back of Gloria Comerma’s legs and bounced over the line.

With Symmons back in the fold, Ireland look by far the more dangerous side in the second quarter as a sizable Irish contingent in the covered stand reached full voice.

Lisa Jacob and Alex Speers were the pick of the front line while Eimear Cregan pick-pocketed Pilar Sanchez and drew a great save from Maria Rosa. Ireland threatened from play while the Spanish were content to play for corners, leading to a fairly lively affair which ended 1-1.

Whether it was a case of Ireland dropping off or the world number seven side stepping up, Spain dominated the key third quarter where the game was won and lost.
Cathy McKean’s thrilling, rough and tumble run down the left sideline did earn another corner but, for the most part, it was a struggle to break out of the 25.

But, in the 45th minute, Ireland were stung on one of their few break-outs when a brilliant through-ball to Silvia Munoz opened a big channel. Bridget Cleland fouled but Olalla Piniero picked up the self-pass inside the dotted line and unleashed an unstoppable reverse-stick shot into the roof of Mary Goode’s net.

From Ireland’s fourth corner, Symmons’ almost levelled for a second time when the pull-out went awry. Shirley McCay adapted well to switch right but the Spanish defence reacted brilliantly to shut down the chance.

And with that, chances of victory went up in smoke. Symmons was robbed in her own 25 and McCay’s subsequent diving tackle to recover the situation gave Spain a corner they duly converted; a simple move back to pusher-out Ester Termens.

It prompted Muller’s decision to play the last 15 minutes with 11 outfield players and yet more corner opportunities came and went. Cregan shot high while McKean was unlucky to be adjudged to have pushed a player with the ball in an inviting area.

But the risk/reward ratio worked against Ireland four minutes from time when Piniero found Michelle Harvey’s foot and Silvia Bonastre duly thundered through the padless Cleland’s defences on the line from a corner – making Spain’s conversion rate three from five.

It was a point Muller picked up in the post match interviews: “It was an extremely close game, I thought it’s the best we’ve played against Spain as far as I can remember. The difference was we conceded three weak penalty corners which I am unhappy about. Meanwhile, our corner scoring rate was not good. We’d trained really well but it wasn’t as slick as it should have been.

“Their second was a very good goal and from that moment, all bets were off in terms of how we played. We had to make some changes like introducing the kicking back – something we discussed before the game. With 15 minutes to go, I thought, we’re not going to score three goals with the way the game had gone so it was worth throwing on an extra player.”

The results means Ireland will play two relegation pool games, carrying the point against Scotland into Thursday and Saturday’s fixtures. At the time of writing, those look to be against Russia and Azerbaijan.

“Tactically, I thought we did well. I want to have the same level of professionalism going into Azerbaijan and Russia. The goalposts have now shifted. We’re now no longer going for the ideal, it’s now a question of survival. It brings a different type of pressure but if we match this preparation and level of effort we should do well.”

Ireland: M Goode, C Sargent, E Cregan (capt), E Clarke, B Cleland, S McCay, C McKean, N Symmons, E Smyth, L Jacob, L Barr
Subs: E Stewart, A Speers, L Colvin, M Frazer, M Harvey

Spain: M Rosa, J Menendez, R Ybarra, M Cruz, S Munoz, S Bonastre, R Gutierrez, P Sanchez, N Camon (capt), E Termens, G Comerma
Subs: P Banbanch, A Flores, O Pineiro, L Domenech, M Fabregas

Pool B: Ireland 1 Spain 4; Scotland 0 Germany 4
Final group standings: 1. Germany 9pts (+12) 2. Spain 6pts (+4) 3. Scotland 1pt (-6) 4. Ireland 1pt (-10)

* For more of Ondine Roche's photos from the game click here; for The Hook's live match-tracker of the game, click here.

* To see the Loreto, Foxrock supporter's club in action, click here

Monday, August 24, 2009

Watch Ireland's women live...

* Story has been amended since original post due to a timing error! Apologies for any inconvenience caused...

To catch Ireland's crucial match with Spain on Tuesday, your best bet is still to try and watch it online.

The other links for live streaming online that I have to hand are from and NOS - I'm not sure if these work in Ireland but the producers of the former site have told me if you can change your 'proxy settings' you may be able to connect. If you have any other ideas, feel free to post them in the comments.

A win for the Irish against the world number seven side would -barring a massive surprise in the Germany-Scotland game - earn a semi-final place in the EuroHockey Nations Championships along with a 2010 World Cup place.

British Eurosport 2 will broadcast three lives matches today as well as a couple of highlight packages, too, one of which is at 2pm. If you're unable to make it to a tv screen, Eurosport does provide a subscription service for an online broadcast.

Finally, to post good luck messages to the Irish team, go to the IHA facebook page.

* For highlights of Poland vs Holland's men in action...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

EuroHockey Nations: Ireland 0 Scotland 0

Ireland 0 Scotland 0
Ireland flirted with disaster in their second group game against Scotland but ultimately were the side who came closest to stealing all three points after a second half onslaught.

As such, combined with Spain’s 2-1 defeat to Germany in the day’s second game, the difference between one and three points does not massively change the equation in the chase for a semi-final berth Tuesday’s final group match.

A win against the odds against Spain and Ireland would more than likely be into the last four and earn a 2010 World Cup place into the bargain. Should Ireland end up in the relegation pool, though, the result becomes more significant.

With the spectre of Saturday’s 7-0 thrashing at the hands of reigning champions Germany looming large, Ireland struggled out of the blocks against the Scots.

They conceded four penalty corners inside the first quarter, one of which needed Shirley McCay’s quick wits to sweep off the line.

Laura Bartlett’s trickery was pinning Ireland back. But some blood and thunder defending from Bridget Cleland and Mary Goode’s fine work meant the Irish goal was relatively untroubled – McCay’s clearance aside.

The Irish did steadily grow into the game, mainly inspired the relatively old heads of Eimear Cregan and Nikki Symmons. Emma Clarke earned Ireland’s first penalty corner – of five in total – in the 26th minute, showing off one of three excellently innovative routines to create space for Symmons to shoot.

A second effort left Cregan with plenty of space on the right of the circle but the impressive Abigail Walker blocked well.

Lauren Barr needed to be alert to block another Bartlett goal-bound effort soon after the interval but from that point, Ireland were the dominant force.

Cregan once again was the spark, providing the game’s best piece of skill to dance around three tackles. Her effort came from too narrow an angle to stretch Walker but the intention sparked a move to a successful full-press.

Lisa Jacob’s steal from the subsequent hit-out created a two on one which the UCD player half-volleyed just wide of the left post.

And Ireland had their best chances right on the final hooter with two more corner shots. Symmons’ first dig was saved while Cregan stepped up for the second but again was thwarted.

It left Gene Muller with mixed feelings given the second half chances but reminded of the first half toils.

“I have mixed feelings. I was disappointed in the first half, in the second half it was fantastic. Scotland had a few more chances in the first half but in the second, we were unlucky.

“We were over-hyped in the first half. Everyone realised the importance of this game. Sometimes when you want to win too badly, you don’t play with the freedom you would hope to. But in the second half we played with freedom and creativity and a lot of desire so I was happy with how it ended.”

Ireland skipper Eimear Cregan (pictured, below left), meanwhile, said there was a real wish among the players to bounce back after Saturday’s German mauling.

“We met last night and decided that our tournament was going to start today. The Germany game, although we went out to win it, it wasn’t a priority game for the tournament.

“We sat down ‘we have to throw everything at it ‘. Scotland did that in the first half, we did it in the second. We wanted to dominate and I think we showed that in attack and that’s where we won a lot of ball. The first feeling coming off the pitch is obviously disappointment.

"We felt we were the stronger team but onwards and upwards. We can assess this performance and go out and look for the win against Spain on Tuesday.”

Ireland: M Goode, E Cregan (capt), E Clarke, E Stewart, B Cleland, S McCay, C McKean, N Symmons, E Smyth, L Jacob, L Barr
Subs: R Flinn, A Speers, L Colvin, M Frazer, M Harvey

Scotland: A Walker, V Bunce, L Baxter, C Forrest, L Bartlett, H Cram, L Clement (capt), A Robertson, E Rochlin, E Maguire, L Fawcett
Subs: A Bell, J Bryce, N Kidd, L Wrightson, R Ward

EuroHockey Nations Championships

Pool B : Ireland 0 Scotland 0; Germany 2 Spain 1
Standings (points/goal difference): 1. Germany 6pts (+8) 2. Spain 3pts (+1) 3. Scotland 1pt (-2) 4. Ireland 1pt (-7)

Pool A: Netherlands 5 England 0
Standings: 1. Netherlands 6pts (+15) 2. England 3pts (-1) 3. Russia 0pts (-4) 4. Azerbaijan 0pts (-10)

* For more of Ondine Roche's pics from the game, click here

Saturday, August 22, 2009

EuroHockey Nation's: Ireland 0 Germany 7

Ireland 0 Germany 7 (A Kuhn, N Keller, F Rinne 2, M Stockel 2, J Muller)
Ireland endured a torrid opener to their EuroHockey Nations Championship campaign as they were on the receiving end of a 7-0 thrashing from reigning champions Germany in Amsterdam this afternoon.

It was never likely to prove a crucial result for Ireland in their efforts to maintain 'A division' status but it was a chastening defeat nonetheless - outdoing the 6-0 suffered two years ago in Manchester against the Netherlands.

Tomorrow morning's fixture against Scotland, therefore, remains the crucial fixture - especially after Spain beat Ireland's Celtic rivals 3-1.

Any sort of result will likely give the Irish a shot at a semi-final place against Spain whilst also potentially benefitting the relegation pool's standings.

The Germans had served notice of their intent inside 20 seconds, creating their first scoring opportunity and were ahead in the tenth minute when Anke Huhn - a former team-mate of Nikki Symmons from her Eintracht Braushweig days - snapped up a rebound.

Mary Goode pulled off a series of saves to from Jennifer Plass, Janine Beerman and the vastly experienced Natascha Keller (pictured taking on Emma Stewart, above right).

She received little support, though, from a defence being run ragged by the German’s pace and intensity. Her fourth major block of note denied Keller in a one-on-one situation but Plass reacted quickest to set up Keller for a simple finish with Goode stranded at the circle’s edge.

Fanny Rinne clattered in a penalty corner drag-flick for a 3-0 half-time lead.

The Irish competed with more voracity in the second period, drawing two short corners while Lisa Jacob and Roisin Flinn produced Ireland’s only two shots on target – both on their reverse-stick side.

But Germany always had the ability to up their tempo at will and added four more to their tally.
Rinne bashed in a straight hit from Germany’s seventh corner after the interval before Plass and Maike Stockel combined twice for two divine goals.

And a switch-right from yet another corner on the final whistle saw defender Julia Muller join the party.

The result served to emphasise the difference between the tournament haves and have-nots; a point rammed home by the Dutch in their 10-0 drubbing of Azerbaijan.

Speaking afterwards, Gene Muller found the odd crumb of comfort from a chastening experience:

“It was a difficult assignment playing a German side who have been in a medal match in every major competition for a long time. There was a major quality difference, but not only that, they played very well. We need to recognise that fact once an opposition like that, it becomes a bit of damage control.

“It is a bit of a shock to play against a side like this, especially if you have a young team and you have to be aware this is part of the team’s education. It’s not the end for Irish hockey but a continual building for the future. Disappointed, but you have to take your medicine sometimes.

“What we take from the game is that we were able to change, especially our intensity, in the second half. We were too timid in the first half, so our challenge now is to start with that physical intensity against Scotland.

“The Scotland game is a critical game for us, it was always going to be. Staying up, that’s the premier objective. After that, even a point against Scotland and we may have a chance of playing for a World Cup place against Spain. By the end of tomorrow, the objective is still to be in the tournament.”

Ireland: Mary Goode, Roisin Flinn, Eimear Cregan (capt), Emma Clarke, Emma Stewart, Bridget Cleland, Shirley McCay, Nikki Symmons, Emma Smyth, Lisa Jacob, Michelle Harvey
Subs: Cliodhna Sargent, Cathy McKean, Alex Speers, Lizzie Colvin, Megan Frazer

Pool B results: Ireland 0Germany 7 (A Kuhn, N Keller, F Rinne 2, M Stockel 2, J Muller) ; Spain 3 (R Huertas, S Munoz, R Ybarra) Scotland 1 (H Cram)
Pool A results: Netherlands 10 Azerbaijan 0; England 4 Russia 0

* For more of Ondine Roche's (from Fermoy HC) pictures from Ireland vs Germany, click here

Friday, August 21, 2009

Youthful experience to guide Ireland

Gene Muller brings Ireland’s youngest ever side to a major tournament as they begin their EuroHockey Nation’s Championships tomorrow morning in Amsterdam with the unenviable task of facing reigning champions Germany.

They do so, though, with the psychological boost of a 1-0 win over England in a midweek warm-up match - Eimear Cregan (pictured, left) scoring a penalty corner - as well as getting an idea of the game-speed in the offing in a 40-minute run around against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

It gave the side some much needed game time after a three-game series against Azerbaijan was cancelled at short notice due to visa complications.

Emma Smyth (pictured, below right) picked up a head injury which required stitches in midweek but has been cleared to play meaning Muller has a full bill of health for the tournament and told the Hook: “I’m quite happy with where we’re at.

“The first call is always to make sure that everyone is healthy and fit. We’ve achieved that. I’m quite happy. I think we have the best players here and they’re all raring to go.”

The one change from June’s Champion’s Challenge panel – the summer’s other ranking event – is the return of Cliodhna Sargent in place of Niamh Small. The nature of the tournament meant Muller was looking for extra defensive cover, reverting back to his preferred squad make-up.

“It just depends where you need cover; basically it’s just what players are needed for which roles.

“Normally, in a squad of 18, we only travel with four midfielders. It was rare for us to take five to a tournament, normally its six defenders and six forwards. For that tournament, I went with one less defender.”

Ireland bring the youngest side into the tournament with an average age of 23 years and eight months. On the flip side, though, his side are more experienced in caps terms compared with any of their predecessors with the average currently at the 60 cap mark.

Muller feels his side might be two years away from their ideal demographic but have plenty to play for in a demanding series of group games against the Germans, world number seven side Spain and the up-and-coming Scotland.

“There are two aims, the first of which is most important: staying up. I think we must try and stay up for our chances at 2012 as it gives us two shots at qualifying.

“Secondly, if things go well, is to get to the world cup. Our pool is probably the most competitive one I’ve ever coached in over 200 international appearances as a coach. The Germans are the reigning champions, the Spanish are very much a team on the up. This is exactly the same team that went to the Olympics with 50 extra caps added per player. The Scots are probably the best Scottish team I’ve seen in my time as a coach.

“But it’s a pool where I think the main aim is to play well. If we do that, we should stay up. If we play exceptionally well, we’ve a chance of getting to the World Cup.

“I feel pretty confident with this group that even though they are young, they are mature. They’ve been together for the Olympic qualifiers and the Champion’s Challenge so there’s a track record of adversity and you need that, you have to be able to bank that. The question is whether it is enough to put us through. I’m fully trusting of our resilience; we’re going to need that.”

EuroHockey Nations Championship, Wagener Stadium, Amsterdam:

Ireland squad (club/caps): L Barr (Ballymoney/13), E Clarke (Ulster Elks/76), B Cleland (Ballymoney/132), L Colvin (Loreto/17), E Cregan (Cork Harlequins/154, capt), R Flinn (UCD/59), M Frazer (Ballymoney/16), M Goode (Bray/57), E Gray (Hermes/11), M Harvey (Pegasus/18), L Jacob (UCD/54), S McCay (Ulster Elks/71), C McKean (Loreto/125), C Sargent (Cork Harlequins/46), A Speers (Pegasus/60), E Smyth (Railway Union/12), E Stewart (Armagh/77), N Symmons (Loreto/122)

Schedule (all Irish times):
Today (10.30am): Ireland v Germany
Tomorrow (8.30am): Ireland v Scotland
Tuesday (12.30pm): Ireland vs Spain
Thursday and Saturday: Classification matches/finals

* To leave a message of support for the team, go to the IHA's facebook page; live streaming should be available througout the tournament on this site.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Irish EHL view in Belgium

The other interested Irish parties to the EHL draw were KHC Leuven's duo Phelie Maguire and Mitch Darling. The Belgian club drew EHL first-timers Beeston from England and France's St Germain in the second set of round one, group games.

Maguire told The Hook the view from Belgium on how the draw panned out for his club:

"Obviously, the mood is confident in that we avoided any of the top Dutch teams. However, we are faced with not one, but two important games as we feel that all three teams are capable of beating each other. Waterloo Ducks seem to have the easier weekend as they have Dynamo Kazan whom they would expect to beat, and then have a nice tie against Polo!

"All the players have yet to arrive, but we are confident with the sigining of Juan Garreta, from Argentina, and Pau Quemada's brother Edu that we have the right balance in the team. Adding in three Belgian players taking part in the A division we could have between eight to ten international players.

"There has been chat about how they did last year, and the players believe we can emulate it this year, so long as you avoid the Dutch teams."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pembroke and Glens to face European giants

Pembroke and Glenanne have both drawn been handed against giants of the European game for the first round of the EuroHockey League, which gets underway in Barcelona on October 9.

While both sides picked up tough draws, Glenanne’s schedule makes for an intense weekend as they begin their maiden EHL voyage with a Friday afternoon game (4.30pm) against 2008 champions Uhlenhorst Hamburg before retaking the field against Grunwald Poznan under 20 hours later, 12.30pm on the Saturday afternoon.

It was the nightmare scenario coach Arul Anthoni told The Hook he was hoping to avoid last week when the opponents were made known.

Uhlenhorster will be without goalkeeper Johannes Blank while Scottish international Niall Stott has moved to English club hockey but the Germans still represent a monumental task with Moritz Furste, (pictured, right) one of world hockey’s best talents, leading the way.

With two of the three teams to qualify for the KO16 round, it means a lot of pressure is likely to be placed on the match against the Polish champions.

Many of the Poles will be familiar to Irish audiences having represented their country in the Champion’s Challenge II. Defender Tomasz Duktiewicz scored the vital winner in the group stages while Slawomir Choczaj, Marcin Strykowski, Miroslaw Kluczynski and Tomasz Choczaj are all experienced internationals. Poznan reached the last 16 in 2008/09, losing 4-2 to Rotterdam in Hamburg.

Pembroke have a kinder schedule with a Friday and Sunday game and will hope to overturn the nightmare ending to their first EHL adventure when, needing a draw to advance, they let a 2-0 half-time lead slip against KS Pocztowiec Poznan.

And while John McInroy and Ian Symons have moved on from that team, they are arguably in much better shape this time around with Tim Lewis, the Harte twins and Alan Sothern developing immensely.

They play Scottish champions of the past five years Kelburne on the Friday evening (6.30pm) in what could be the make or break group game.

Dutch giants Rotterdam, with their multi-cultural mix of international stars, are the opponents on the Sunday (2.30pm).

International midfielder Robert van den Horst has signed from Oranje Zwart while New Zealand star-striker Simon Child was recently named the Junior World Cup’s player of the tournament.

Throw in Sohail Abbas (pictured, below left) – the world record goalscorer – Waseem Ahmed, Jeroen Hertzberger, Australia’s Mark Knowles and Kiwi pair Ryan Archibald and Phil Burrows and it is a truly awesome proposition.

But, on balance, Pembroke head coach Craig Fulton is happy with how things panned out. “It’s a good draw but obviously Kelburne are thinking we’re a good draw too. We’re real underdogs against Rotterdam so it’s a dogfight between us and Kelburne if we’re perfectly honest.

As for the Rotterdam threat, he says “We play every game to win. Whether or not we get it right on the day, well... I’m not putting them up on a pedestal but I’m not saying they are not as good as they are.

“They’re the biggest club in Europe so when you go in there you’ve got to respect them; you’ve got to do your homework. But in those games you worry about yourselves; you don’t really worry about what they have to offer. To be honest, if you do it any other way, the task becomes too daunting especially when it’s one of the best teams in Europe.”

And he adds that the two Irish teams being drawn in the first set of EHL round one group games was a great boost, considering potential complications with the national team:

“If there was anything we could have wished for, from an Irish point of view, it was that situation. From an Irish perspective having both teams that weekend is pretty important. It’s all guns blazing from now.”

* For the full draw, fixtures and times, click here. It has yet to be confirmed whether the tournament will be played in either the Polo or Terrassa club in the city. Both are drawn in this round of matches.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

McConnell confirms Pembroke move

Andy McConnell (pictured in Ireland action) confirmed what will no doubt be the most eye-catching transfer of the summer - and, perhaps, of any Leinster hockey summer - this evening as he makes the switch from Three Rock Rovers to Pembroke.

After plenty of speculation in the past couple of months, Pembroke returned to full training this evening with McConnell adding to the sizable international contingent at Serpentine Avenue.

Ahead of a hectic season with EHL, IHL and Leinster concerns, it brings the quadruple holders crop of current Irish internationals up to seven.

With former Irish stars Justin Sherriff and Gordon Elliott - the last senior player to make the move across town from Grange Road - still in the mix, it makes for an awesome proposition as rival clubs bid to catch the current standard bearers in Irish club hockey.

To that end, Glenanne have signed Czech Republic international Filip Jaros from Monkstown and Fingal goal-getter Mick McGuinness.

For Three Rock, it makes the task of emulating their final four appearance in the IHL even tougher having already seen Mitch Darling and Phelie Maguire take up contracts with Belgian side KHC Leuven.

McConnell is likely to make his first appearance in Pembroke colours on a preseason tour to England in a couple of weekend's time.

Gleghorne Jr's Australian adventure

While many Irish hockey players have signed up to Australian clubs during their years out, an increasing trend of high profile have made the trip down under with international prospects, rather than a year out, high on the agenda.

Peter Blakeney is the most notable export, helping the West Australia Thundersticks to the Australian title. Now in his third stint in Oz where his is finishing his master's thesis, Blakeney has been joined by four recent Irish debutants: Johnny Bruton, Michael Maguire, David Robinson - after a brief spell in Argentina - and Paul Gleghorne.

The last of that quintet may have a famous name in Irish hockey by is probably the least well known in Leinster circles.

Gleghorne, the former Instonians' centre-back, left Ireland's shores to study at Loughborough a couple of years ago, reaching the EHL quarter-final along the way, and is now very much looking at carving out a place in the Irish side.

The centre-back opened his international career with a first-half goal against Wales in the 2009 Celtic Cup. Five days later, with a winner’s medal in his pocket, he boarded the plane to Perth for an eight-game stint with the North Coast Raiders, home club of international superstar Jamie Dwyer among other top-class players.

He flew back to Europe earlier this week, returning for another year with the English university, buoyed by his recent sojourn down under.

Speaking to The Hook, he said of the experience: “I have really enjoyed the hockey and have got to play with and against many current and ex-Australian internationals. The most high profile player on my team is Dwyer, and it has been brilliant to play with him.

"The standard of the competition is very good, and the game is played at a very high pace. The main difference between the style of play here compared to in Europe is that the play here is much more direct."

Gleghorne was initially alerted to the opportunity of alternative summer hockey by Loughborough club mates and settled at the Raiders who "were able to offer the best deal".

He adds, that having just finished his degree, the moment was not to take the plunge: "I have been interested in coming out to play there for sometime and decided that now would be the best time to do it.

“I wanted to experience hockey abroad and work hard to improve my game whilst here. I had heard good reports about the standard here and wanted to experience it for myself. I have played against some top players and have really enjoyed the challenge. It has been a very positive experience for my hockey."

As for lining out alongside Dwyer - the three-time world player of the year - it offered a unique opportunity to learn from the best.

“In games, what sets him apart from the others I have played with is the way he leads for the ball and creates space for himself; it makes my job of passing to him much easier. His pace is obviously a great attribute when he has the ball but the way he uses his pace off the ball is what I noticed the most."

Gleghorne returns to play his hockey in England this year but could envisage further moves in the future. “I have no long term plans as yet and I am not ruling anything at this stage!”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Railway to host mixed 6-a-side

Railway Union will play host to a welcome back to the season, mixed 6-a-side competition at Park Avenue on September 4.

Action tips off at 6.45pm and all teams entered are guaranteed three 20 minute games. The event also incorporates a free barbecue, a social event in the club bar while there is also €200 worth of sports vouchers on offer as prizes.

Teams will be made up of three ladies and three men on pitch at any one time while squads can be made up of up to ten players. To register your team, email Entry is €20 per player and includes a free drink.
To download an entry form with further info, click here

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ireland avoid direct EHL and WCQ clash

The likelihood of both Glenanne and Pembroke's international players being available for the EuroHockey League's opening rounds was given a huge boost as both were confirmed to play in the first of the two weekends of group stages.

Both clubs will play in Barcelona on the weekend of October 9 to 11, giving at least some breathing space for sides with large Irish representation ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers.

It means there is a minimum of 20 days between the end of their EHL involvement and the first of three World Cup Qualifying tournaments in Lille on October 31.

A worst case scenario would have seen Ireland play in this competition a week after EHL group games in Lille and would likely see club players pulled out in favour of playing for Ireland.

Should Ireland be drawn in one of the later WCQ events, the issue becomes less of a problem. The draw for the WCQs will take place once the current continental competitions have been completed with Invercargill, New Zealand (November 7-15) and Quilmes, Argentina (November 14-22) the other two possible destination.

KHC Leuven and their Irish pair Phelie Maguire and Mitch Darling, however, could face a tug-o-war for the player services as the Belgian club has been drawn in the second set of group matches.

* At the time of writing, The Hook has been informed that while the draw for the EHL group stages has been made, a couple of issues remain to be ironed out and so final details will not be released for a couple of days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ireland can still improve - Revington

In the aftermath of Ireland's EuroHockey Nations Trophy win in Wrexham, The Hook caught up with Paul Revington, Ronan Gormley and John Jermyn to get their thoughts on the final and the tournament as a whole.

First off, Paul Revington was asked about the decider against Russia: “Performance-wise, the final was ok. I thought we should have finished the tie off a little earlier. There were enough chances to win that game by four or five goals. Everyone’s happy that they have rectified the Champ’s Challenge final but we’ve got a bit of work to do on our finishing.

“We’ve reached a stage where, outside of a trophy being on the line, the players need to be able to enter the game calmly, still excited and still precise mentally and physically and I think they got the balance right today."

Reflecting on the tournament as a whole, Revington believes the side is still in its embryonic stages: “We’re building a side here and to do that you have to guys who trust each other and give their soul a little bit. Giving a little bit of emotion is the first part of that process.

“Quite a lot players are finding their feet as main international players in the team. There are enough of them who haven’t played against sides like Russia and Poland consistently. It takes a few games to understand their style, recognise the way you’ve got to play against them and be calm doing that and they showed they are capable of doing that."

Skipper Ronan Gormley, meanwhile, said that the side did not reach its full potential in the tournament and, like Revington, believes there is more in the tank:

“I don’t think we played to our best all week. We would have liked to have shown more than that in terms of what we can do, because we can do more. But I think, in the ups and downs of a tournament, we’ve managed it well.

"We’ve ended up winning the tournament without really reaching our peak and are coming home with the trophy so we’re delighted that we haven’t played our best but still won.

Asked about the quieter rendition of Ireland's Call that preceded the final in comparison to the powerful version prior to the semi-final against Wales, Gormley says it was very much a ploy to stay in a more relaxed frame of mind.

“I suppose at the end of a tournament you want to conserve as much energy as possible. Every single player in this squad has a burning desire in them to win but we made a decision that we don’t need to have outward displays of aggression as that will show on the pitch.

“As such, the early setback didn’t really phase us. We stuck to the game plan. We tried to be pretty low-key in the build up to the game and I think that showed when we did go 1-0 down. We really dominated the vast majority after that.”

Two-goal hero John Jermyn (pictured, left, with David Hobbs and Harte brother Conor and David) picks up that theme: “Revs had decided that the best bet for us to approach the game would be not outward aggression that would get Russia geed up. We needed to be ready within ourselves and it seemed to work. Everyone was up for it during the game but it wasn’t a matter of bumping shoulders at the start.

He also felt it was nice to get revenge over the Russian side who had soured his 100th cap in the pool stages. “I'm thrilled, especially after the Champion’s Challenge and getting so close. It’s great at this stage to be able to finish it off.

“It was definitely nice to get some revenge over the Russians. Talking to a few people beforehand, they weren’t sure whether we could do it. We all knew and we fully believed that we could and are thrilled to finish off the summer on a high like that and win the Europeans.

As for his personal contribution, he jokes that he was enduring a relative goal drought: "Two games without a goal! I was feeling the pressure. One more would have been nice [to reach 50 goals in an Irish jersey]. I didn’t realise that until after but I’ll take two and the win definitely."

* For more of Tristan Seaton-Stedham's pictures from the post-final celebrations, click here

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jermyn double fires Ireland to Euro glory

Ireland 2 (John Jermyn 2) Russia 1 (Alexandre Plantonov)
John Jermyn’s double completed a fairytale ending to an incredibly successful international summer which yielded three trophies as Ireland came from behind to beat Russia and take the EuroHockey Nation’s Trophy title in Wrexham.

No doubt this was the biggest of the three titles – the others being the Glyndwr and Celtic Cups – and went some way to ease the pain of a last-gasp defeat in the Champion’s Challenge II final to Poland last month.

They did it the hard way, falling behind early on but from that point on, Ireland were the dominant force and produced some of their best hockey since Paul Revington took over in January.

Pre-match, a notable change in the Irish psyche took place during the anthems. A more steely resolve was evident rather than the puffed out chests of Thursday’s semi-final win over Wales.

It’s relevance was not immediately apparent as the sides played out the most subdued seven minutes of hockey of the tournament.

The eighth minute, though, produced Russia’s goal as skipper Alexandre Plantonov waltzed through unchallenged to fire in a reverse-stick effort from a narrow angle.

Ireland’s response, however, was wonderfully composed. Initially, a half-court press drew a series of good chances; Stephen Butler and Timmy Cockram’s two-on-two was snuffed out while Mitch Darling skimmed a post and Geoff McCabe hit the side-netting in a flurry of attacks.

Alan Sothern went even closer with his connection to Eugene Magee’s flashing reverse-stick cross but Roman Rogov picked off an incredible save inches from the goal line.

Half-court turned more aggressive and Ireland camped in Russian territory. Four penalty corner chances went unrewarded.

The fifth, however, saw Jermyn return to scoring form with a bullet to the bottom right corner two minutes before the break.

It was perfect revenge for the Cork man whose 100th cap was ruined by the Russians in the group game last Tuesday, beating the Irish 2-1.

David Hobbs thought he had the Irish in front 15 minutes into the second period. One of the official nominees for player of the tournament – Alexander Korolev picked up the overall title – Hobbs flew down the left-wing, dinked over Rogov. The ball was redirected in off Dimitry Volkov’s shoulder but was deemed dangerous.

Alexander Cherenekov was sin-binned in the aftermath of that incident for an unceremonious hack and Ireland took full advantage.

Using the extra space, Russia were carved open when Eugene Magee rolled under his arm to skipper Ronan Gormley. His pin-point cross found Jermyn unmarked to pull the ball out of his legs and duly slammed home from the circle’s edge for the go-ahead goal.

Jermyn smacked the post moments later – what would have been his 50th international goal had it gone in – while Sothern also had a reverse brilliantly denied by Rogov once again.

Slender leads inevitably lead to nervy moments a plenty, though, especially when Jermyn was sin-binned for an off-the-ball incident with Cherenekov with Ilya Larikova waded in to also receive his marching orders.

And when Cockram was adjudged to have used a foot rather than his glove to concede a corner with three minutes to go, Ireland were almost made to pay for their profligacy.

Harte saved brilliantly from Alexey Sergeev – the tournament’s top marksman prior to the final enduring his quietest game of the competition – and Magee charged down a follow-up corner to start the celebrations.

Ireland: D Harte, R Gormley (capt), J Jackson, S Butler, J Brennan, J Jermyn, E Magee, G Shaw, T Cockram, A Sothern, T Lewis
Subs: A Giles, D Hobbs, M Darling, G McCabe, C Harte

Russia: R Rogov, E Mokrousov, A Sergeev, A Korolev, A Cherenkov, A Zhirkov, D Volkov, S Kostarev, T Nikolaev, Y Loginov, A Platonov
Subs: I Larikova, A Likov, A Mamoskhin, A Godenkov, N Yankun

* For more of Fidopics photos from the Ireland-Russia final, click here

Wales take bronze on home turf

Wales 5 (Rick Gay 2, Rhys Joyce, Ben Edge, Ben Croxall) Czech Republic 2 (David Vacek, Jakub Kyndl)
Wales produced their best hockey of the tournament to emulate the feat of their female counterparts to upset the pre-tournament rankings to claim bronze at the EuroHockey Nation’s Trophy.

The home nation produced their most complete 70 minutes against the Czech Republic, winning 5-2 to equal their best performance in the competition since the tiered version of the competition was introduced.

After making much of the early running, Wales took the lead in the 21st minute when Ben Croxall sublimely deflected home at the near post from Andy Cornick’s right-wing cross.

And they had little time to wait for a second. It came in similar fashion; this time Rufus McNaught-Barrington cracked in the cross and Ben Edge redirected from five yards out.

But a near faultless half was ruined three minutes before the interval when no one reacted to George Harris’ save and David Vaeck swooped to chip into the net.

The two-goal advantage was restored in the 49th minute when Andy Cornick drew a penalty corner and Rick Gay dragged home low and left.

Joe Naughalty was sin-binned soon after for a rash tackle but his presence was scarcely missed as Gay was hacked down on the flick spot, giving Rhys Joyce his third penalty stroke opportunity.

He duly obliged in his favourite spot – the left side of the backboard – for 4-1. And Gay got his second of the day – and his side’s third in eight minutes – in the 57th minute with yet another drag-flick.

The Czechs pulled one back with an incredibly conceived corner of their own as Tomas Prochazka swivelled both clockwise then counter-clockwise to lay up Jakub Kyndl. He looped over Harris to make it 5-2.

Wales, though, held out three further corners to make sure the medal was in the bag.

EuroHockey Nation's Trophy: Live updates

For live, minute-by-minute updates from the EuroHockey Nation's Trophy final between Ireland and Russia, and indeed all the other classification games today, go to

Ireland's match gets underway at 5pm.

EuroHockey Trophy: Relegation pool

Italy 2 (Jacopo Lunetta, Massimo Lanzano) Switzerland 1 (Fabian Wullschegler)
Italy kept their survival hopes alive as they beat already relegated Switzerland 2-1, condemning their Alpine neighbours to eighth place in the competition.

Despite dominating for long periods, the Italians made hard work of victory, scoring just one of their nine penalty corners. They started in determined fashion, Agustin Nunez stinging Patrick Egloff’s twice with powerful reverse-stick efforts.

Andrin Rickli’s volleyed snap-shot in the 12th minute was the sole Swiss to the near constant barrage and Italy eventually took the lead in the 27th minute when skipper Jacopo Lunetta batted in a corner rebound.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Nunez saw two more effort saved while Michele Cirina’s thunderbolt was also dealt with Egloff. Massimo Lanzano, though, made the game safe with nine minutes remaining, swivelling well on a bouncing ball to crash home.

Fabian Wullschleger pulled one back with seven seconds to go but scant consolation for the Swiss. Italy, meanwhile, must now hope Scotland beat Italy by two goals or more.

Scotland 2 (Iain Scholefield, Mark Ralph) Belarus 1 (Vitali Zyshchyk)
In the end , Scotland and Belarus got the mutually beneficially result that saw the former take the fifth World Cup qualifying place and the latter keep their place in the second tier of European competition on goal difference.

The Belarussians enjoyed slightly the better opening 25 minutes but saw two corners deflected wide by the Scottish defence and found all their good work undone when Iain Scholefield burst down the right wing.

His original cross was cut out by Yauhen Cherapanau but the defender dallied and Scholefield nipped in to swipe the ball to the net for a 28th minute lead.

Mark Ralph rebounded a penalty corner for 2-0 three minutes later and Belarus were on the verge of relegation. And the Scots started the second half in rude form winning a pair of corners.

But they were stung on the break in the 43rd minute. Ihar Zyshchyk’s superb run was halted by Ali McGregor but Vitali Zyshchyk followed up to crash into the netting from close-range.

Thereafter, only Graham Dunlop’s excellent cover tackle on Vitali Zyshchyk registered as a highlight as neither side was able to upset the status quo. Italy, as a result, join Switzerland in relegation to the third tier of European competition.

Relegation standings: 1. Scotland 9pts (+7) 2. Belarus 4pts (0) 3. Italy 4pts (-1) 4. Switzerland 0pts (-6)

* For more pictures from the relegation games, click here