Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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

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