| 7.8°C Belfast

Ireland 1 - 0 Pakistan: Birthday boy Mitch dreaming of Rio


Happy returns: Mitch Darling had two reasons to celebrate

Happy returns: Mitch Darling had two reasons to celebrate

?INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Happy returns: Mitch Darling had two reasons to celebrate

Ireland's Mitch Darling had double cause to celebrate yesterday - it was his his 27th birthday but, more importantly, he helped the Green Machine keep alive their dream of reaching the Rio Olympics.

Craig Fulton's lads pulled off a crucial 1-0 success at the World League 3 series in Antwerp against Asian giants Pakistan - the first time they have ever beaten them - even though they are ranked five below them on the world ladder.

And now they are just one game away from making it to Rio.

That game takes place tomorrow (12pm) against Malaysia who beat France 4-1 and have already beaten the Irish in the earlier pool phase.

But with so much at stake, rest assured the Green Machine - with nine Ulstermen in their ranks - will be giving their all.

Birthday boy Darling played a key role in the success over Pakistan and the Three Rock Rovers forward, who reached the magical 150 caps mark on Wednesday, is not in the least interested in those milestones, as all his focus is on finishing fifth in Antwerp which should be enough to clinch a place in Rio.

Fulton's lads have worked so hard to date, drawing 2-2 with World No 5 Great Britain, losing 2-1 to World No 4 Belgium in the last minute, and giving world champions Australia their closest game in the series to date.

But they had to hold their nerve to secure a place in the 5th-6th play-off, and it was Alan Sothern who did the trick with a 46th minute penalty corner conversion.

Sothern hadn't been used too often from set pieces to date in the series and, when he stepped up, the Pakistan defence didn't know what to expect. And Sothern camly sent his drag flick down the middle and into the net.

There's no doubt the Irish just edged the game. Pakistan had the better first half but the Irish shaded the second apart from the last few minutes.

Stephen Dowds sent an effort over the crossbar after good work by Jonathan Bell and Ronan Gormley had an effort saved before Sothern struck.

It needed Irish goalkeeper David Harte to pull off several outstanding saves and when Pakistan's Imran sent their second penalty corner wide of the post with just minutes left, it was a case of the Irish running down the clock.

"It was a fantastic win against a strong Pakistan team, and so our Rio dream remains alive," said keeper David Harte.

"Now we'll rest up and give it a real go tomorrow."

Belfast Telegraph