Ireland 1 (Stephen Butler) Wales 0
Stephen Butler’s 21st minute drag-flick secured Ireland’s passage through to the final of the EuroHockey Nation’s Trophy with a coveted promotion place to the A division thrown in for good measure.
The goal was the cherry on top for the combative midfielder who – along with Tim Lewis – produced a monumental performance in a tough, physical game which was high on nervous tension and low on clear-cut opportunities.
Relishing the challenge, he showed he was very much in the mood right from the off as Ireland won a series of free-ins around the edge of the circle. But Wales, buoyed by a decent home crowd, created the first real attack of danger in the seventh minute when Andy Cornick burst into the circle but David Harte, in his role of sweeper inside the D, smothered the danger.
In truth, it was a nervy opening from both sides with a couple of slips not helping to settle the game. Wales did get the game’s first corner from Ben Croxall’s first involvement of the game. Sprung from the bench he bounced away from two tackles, eventually drawing a foul.
But corner expert Rick Gay was to have a major off day and was denied easily the towering Harte with his first effort and a follow-up corner was equally well dealt with.
Mitch Darling’s reverse whizzed across the face of goal while John Jermyn scuffed an effort wide in response. His niggle with Huw Jones earned both green, a significant moment as Jones picked up yellow within six minutes for another niggly infringement.
Before that, though, Wales had their best effort of the game denied by Croxall’s back as a goal-bound effort hit him just two yards from the line.
With right-midfielder Jones now in the bin, Ireland stepped up well and Johnny Jackson used the space to ghost forward from left-back. Little room existed but Jackson produced two audacious pieces of three-dimensional skill to burn two defenders and wound up winning Ireland’s only corner of the game.
Jackson (pictured, right, being fouled for the corner) proved an unlikely gamebreaker, showing some devastating touches in an offensive mode to be Ireland’s most dangerous attacker on the day.
Butler nailed his 76th international goal – repeating his semi-final heroics from Rome back in 2005 when the Glenanne man also got the goals that ensure A division status – from that set-piece.
Thereafter, chances were exceptionally scarce; Nick Rees’ clip-shot the only chance of note before half-time.
And openings became even rarer after the break. Geoff McCabe picked up a nasty gash to his head in a clash with Cornick while Ireland’s defence managed to keep Wales clear of the circle with Lewis, backed up by Joe Brennan allowing nothing to penetrate their 25.
Nonetheless a reassuring second goal looked even harder to come by. Jermyn flashed one over the bar but a single-goal lead is always likely to draw late pressure. Croxall’s deflection was well blocked by Harte just after the hour mark and when Ronan Gormley was sin-binned for taking the ball over his shoulder – harsh considering several other similar indiscretions did not even yield a reprimand other than a free hit –the pressure really mounted.
Wales’ inability to create chances from play saw them fumble but eventually they drew a corner with 111 seconds left. Gay got his geometry all wrong, however, ballooning over the bar to hand Ireland the final place.
Afterwards, Paul Revington was delighted to have secured A division status and reach a second ranking tournament final within a month.
“Obviously we are delighted to be in the final. There was always a risk with the Champions Challenge II and this tournament being so close together that we would peak for one and not the other.
"We have managed to reach the final of both these major tournaments and hopefully we will go one better this time [in Saturday’s final].
“This group can be very proud, the last six weeks has physically been a huge ask. This was a super team effort and both the management team and I are very proud of the team today.”
Russia 4 (Alexey Sergeev 2, Alexander Zhirkov, Alexander Korolev) Czech Republic 1 (Tomas Prochazka)
A first half triple set Russia on their way to the final, disposing of the Czech Republic 4-1 in the final reckoning.
Alexander Zhirkov set the ball rolling in the 12th minute from a penalty corner before tournament top-scorer Alexey Sergeev got the first of his brace from his side’s fourth penalty corner – won brilliantly by Alexandre Platonov.
Alexander Korolev made it 3-0 before the break with an absolute beauty from play, finishing off a zippy right-wing move.
The Czechs fought back gamely after the break, winning four corners but only had Tomas Prochazka’s drag-flick for their efforts.
And their fightback was ended when Prochazka conceded a penalty stroke in the 58th minute as the goal beckoned for Alexey Mamoshkin. Sergeev rolled in the flick – his seventh goal of the tournament – to rubber-stamp the result before late Czech shenanigans saw Ondrej Vudmaska and Martin Lehovec sit-out the closing stages.
* For more of Fidopics photos from today's action, click here for Ireland vs Wales and here for Russia vs Czech Republic.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Ireland 1 (Stephen Butler) Wales 0
Posted by Stephen Findlater at 4:37 PM