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Dancer believes Ireland are ready to take the next big step

 

Thinking big: Sean Dancer is out to shock the Germans
Thinking big: Sean Dancer is out to shock the Germans

By John Flack

Ireland women's head coach Sean Dancer believes his team are capable of defying the odds to beat Germany in Antwerp today and qualify for the semi-finals of a European Championship for the first time in the competition's history.

However, the Australian admits that Ireland will have to be at their best and play well for the full 60 minutes to have any hope of causing an upset against the former champions.

The Germans need a draw to qualify for the last-four, while it's a must-win for Ireland as they bid to repeat their heroics of 12 months ago when they claimed the silver medals at the World Cup in London.

On that occasion, they managed to avoid the top-ranked nations en route to the final until they came up against the near-invincible Netherlands and lost 6-0.

There is no such good fortune this time around and Dancer knows just how big a challenge the Germans will pose in what is virtually an identical scenario to the one that transpired in the same competition two years ago in Amsterdam.

On that occasion, Germany won 5-1 to progress to the semi-finals while Ireland dropped into the relegation group, which will also be their fate if they lose this morning.

However, Dancer saw some positive signs in the Germans' 1-1 draw with England in Antwerp on Monday that gives him room for optimism that Ireland can spring a shock if they perform to a high standard.

The 44-year-old said: "England did a really good job blocking up the field on Germany so that shows there is a good way to get at them and we can hurt them from there.

"They will be tough, but there is positive energy that we can put them under the pump and we have to play every game as hard as we can for every minute.

"That's a philosophy I want to instil in the team and will keep pushing, but the game is a challenge we're all looking forward to.

"They are certainly one of the teams to beat and, from the Pro League, have progressed well, playing some good stuff, so naturally it's going to be tough."

Dancer was pleased with most aspects of the 11-0 drubbing of Belarus in Monday's penultimate pool game but there were some areas which he says need addressed.

He added: "We started the game well and were 2-0 up at quarter-time but I really felt we got complacent in the second quarter, although in the second half we played good hockey again which was pleasing."

Four-goal heroine Roisin Upton revealed that behind Dancer's laid-back and mild persona there is a toughness, and his arrival in Ireland after coaching the New Zealand national women's team has been a positive development.

The Limerick woman said: "There was a talking to at half time in the Belarus game - 'switch on, get back in the game, play to our standards'.

"He has come in and injected even more belief, even since the World Cup last year.

"It's great now that it is in our hands for a semi-final spot, somewhere we have never been before, but it's still a flip of a coin between the top four and the bottom four."

"We know the Germans will be tough and they are defensively structured and dangerous going forward."

Today: Pool A: Netherlands v Russia (5pm), Belgium v Spain (7.30pm); Pool B: England v Belarus (9am), Ireland v Germany (11.15am).

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