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Ireland keen to regroup as World dream suffers blow

South Africa 3 Ireland 0

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team missed out on a golden opportunity to qualify for next year's World Cup finals when they lost 3-0 to South Africa at the qualifying tournament in Johannesburg yesterday.

A win would have guaranteed Graham Shaw's side a place in the showpiece for the first time in 15 years but now they must beat India tomorrow (11.15am) to keep their chances alive.

Even then, they would have to rely on the outcome of the various continental championships and hope that additional places will be freed up.

If results do go with the form-book later in the year then a seventh-place finish in South Africa should be enough, but yesterday will go down as a missed opportunity against the host side.

The Springboks are ranked just two places higher than Ireland on the world ladder, and had they been able to replicate the form they had displayed earlier in the tournament they would surely have done the business.

However, they reserved their worst performance for when it mattered most, as they fell to their third successive defeat at the World League 3 tournament.

Even in losing their two previous matches - 3-2 to England and 2-1 to Argentina - there were a lot of positives, but it was difficult to pick out too many yesterday, particularly in the first half when Ireland consistently squandered possession and looked a pale shadow of their normal selves.

Ireland did earn a penalty stroke at 1-0 down but, summing up a poor day at the office, Roisin Upton's effort from the spot hit the post, and even an improved second-half display wasn't good enough to turn things round.

Perhaps the sheer physical demands of having put everything into their previous two close matches when wins would have secured qualification took its toll, but Ireland must summon up one final huge effort if they are to beat the Indians, who lost 2-0 to Japan yesterday.

Shaw said: "We are obviously disappointed with the result. We didn't start the game the way we would have liked and that's the most disappointing thing.

"We played very well in the second half but unfortunately we couldn't get the important goal which would have levelled it and we then got caught on the break.

"That made it very difficult for ourselves and we must re-group now and do everything we can to win on Saturday."

Once again, Ireland started nervously and Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran had to make two important clearances early in the first quarter.

The hosts took the lead in the 23rd minute after winning three consecutive penalty corners.

Ireland asked for a review of the third award - foolishly as the ball had clearly struck a foot - and they lost the video referral before Lisa Marie Deetlefs fired home on her backhand for the opener.

Six minutes later, Upton missed from the spot after a South African defender had kept the ball out of the net with her body.

Four minutes into the second half, Anna O'Flanagan was denied at close range by the Springboks keeper and, in the 49th minute, Bernadette Coston made it 2-0 after a mistake by Hannah Matthews, who lost possession in her own circle.

Ireland withdrew McFerran to have an extra outfield player shortly afterwards, but the ploy backfired when Lilian du Plessis had the simple task of sealing the win with five minutes left with an empty net to aim at.

Meanwhile, Ireland's men can make qualifying a virtual certainty if they defeat France today (1.30pm UK time), but they will be without Banbridge striker Johhny McKee, who has a broken collarbone that will sideline him for six weeks.

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