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Irish girls closing in on dream World Cup finals place

 

By John Flack

Ireland's women edged closer to securing a place in the World Cup finals for the first time since 2002 after a 2-0 win over Poland at the qualifying tournament in Johannesburg yesterday.

It was by no means their best performance at the World League 3 event after earlier draws with higher-ranked opposition in the shape of Japan and Germany, but the result was the most important factor.

It leaves Ireland just one win away from a place in the London showpiece next year, with a quarter-final to come irrespective of the outcome of their final pool game with England on Sunday.

After yesterday's games, Ireland top their pool following a surprise 1-0 win for Japan over England, although the situation will change as those two teams and Germany have played a game fewer.

A win in the first game in the knock-out stages will gain Ireland automatic qualification for the World Cup via a top-four finish, but even a defeat might not be the end of the road.

Should Ireland lose in the quarter-finals, then they would enter the fifth to eighth play-offs and the higher they finish, the better their chances of progressing.

Ireland captain Katie Mullan, the former Ballymoney striker now with UCD, was happy at the result, although she felt her team had failed to reach the same level of performance they had attained in the two earlier matches.

She said: "We wanted to play at the intensity we played the first two games at and I think we did that in patches.

"Other patches not so much, and maybe we left a couple of goals out there, but hopefully we can pick them up later in the tournament."

Ireland broke the deadlock in the first quarter after Chloe Watkins, making her first appearance in the tournament after injury, set up Nikki Evans, who evaded two defenders before firing home on her backhand off the upright.

Ireland forced three penalty corners, and Ulster keeper Ayeisha McFerran, who had been in imperious form in the earlier 2-2 draw with Germany, was rarely called into action.

However, she did make a decent stop from Marlena Rybacha's shot in the second half.

Gillian Pinder sealed the three points to secure Ireland's first win of the tournament in the 39th minute when she rifled the ball into the roof of the net.

The goal was initially disallowed by the umpire for alleged dangerous play, but after a video referral it was allowed to stand.

Meanwhile, the Ireland men will also reach the quarter-finals in their series if they can beat Egypt at the same Johannesburg venue this morning (11am).

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