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Irish girls have tough test after first defeat

Ireland 2-3 England

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team face the daunting task of having to beat Argentina tomorrow to seal a place in next year's World Cup at the first time of asking following a 3-2 defeat by England at the qualifying tournament in Johannesburg yesterday.

However, there were many positives to emerge from a gutsy performance by Graham Shaw's team, despite a first defeat at the World League 3 competition.

Ireland stormed back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to leave themselves in sight of the win they needed to top their pool and face a potentially less difficult clash with South Africa in the last eight.

They more than matched an England side, containing nine Great Britain Olympic gold medallists from Rio, but were undone by some clinical finishing, notably at penalty-corners.

England, world-ranked 13 places higher than Ireland, scored from both the set-pieces that they forced while Ireland were unable to win any in reply despite shading the possession statistics.

However Shaw was happy at the performance, if not the result which means his team might have to rely on a fifth or sixth place finish to keep the dream alive, assuming they don't beat Argentina to clinch the top-four berth which would ensure automatic qualification.

The national coach said: "Naturally, I am very disappointed but, at the same time, very proud of our performance which was absolutely superb from the very first minute."

"To put a side like England on the back foot for long periods, we should be very proud of ourselves.

"I didn't need to motivate the players (at half-time). They knew they were playing very well in the first-half and just needed to continue that in the second.

"It was nice to get on the scoresheet twice so quickly after the break and we were probably a little bit unlucky to lose the game.

The former Annadale and Ireland player insists that Ireland have a chance of getting the win they need over an Argentina side that is third on the world ladder tomorrow (12.30pm UK time) to avoid the possibility of a pressurised last chance saloon scenario.

Shaw added: "We always want to pit ourselves against the best sides in the world, testing ourselves and seeing where we sit."

"We're not fearing anybody and we know that, on our day, we can take on anyone in the world."

A 3-0 win for Germany over Japan earlier in the day wasn't the result that Ireland wanted because it they needed nothing short of victory to avoid the south Americans.

England broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, seconds after Chloe Watkins had been sent to the sin-bin.

There was an element of good fortune about the goal as Ulster's Zoe Wilson knocked a cross from Sarah Haycroft into her own net when under pressure.

Things went from bad to worse three minutes from the half-time interval when Shona McCallin tipped home the first penalty-corner of the game to leave Ireland with the proverbial mountain to climb.

However within 60 seconds of the restart, they pulled a goal back when Nicci Daly's backhand shot was touched into the net by an English defender.

Fewer than two minutes later, Ireland captain Katie Mullan equalised with an improvised reverse-stick effort from the edge of the circle which caught England keeper Maddie Hinch on the hop.

But Ireland's joy was brief as Alex Danson despatched a rebound from a set-piece in the 43rd minute to seal the win and there was no way back.

Ireland: A McFerran; K Mullan; S McCay; L Tice; G Pinder; C Watkins; N Daly; H Matthews; A O'Flanagan; D Duke Z Wilson; subs: Y O'Byrne; N Evans; E Beatty; R Upton; L Colvin.

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