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
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Ireland 1 (Lisa Jacob) Russia 1 (Olga Shentsova)
Posted by Stephen Findlater at 9:58 AM