Ireland stay on course for semis with 11-goal cruise
IRELAND'S women put Belarus to the sword at the European Championship in Antwerp yesterday, scoring 11 goals without reply to keep their semi-final ambitions firmly on track.
Roisin Upton helped herself to a career best tally of four and the Catholic Institute defender was joined on the scoresheet by Ulster pair Zoe Wilson and Bethany Barr, along with Anna O'Flanagan and Nikki Evans, who got two each, and Deirdre Duke.
It was an almost totally one-sided affair against a poor Belarus side, who had been thumped 13-0 by Germany in their opening game on their return to Europe's top division and offered little more here.
Ireland's dominance was evident by the fact they forced no fewer than 18 penalty corners, managing to convert half of them, which is above the usual one-in-three success ratio most teams would be satisfied with.
Now the Germans stand in the way of Ireland and what would be a first ever appearance in the last four of the European showpiece.
However, tomorrow's game will obviously be a huge step up in class and a 1-1 draw between Germany and England yesterday could work against Ireland.
England will be expected to run up a cricket score against Belarus before the final match in Pool B of the tournament.
The Germans might have to beat whatever target is set in the first game of the day if they are to top the standings on goal difference ahead of the English and secure a potentially less difficult semi-final.
In any event, Germany will need to secure a positive result against the Irish following two dropped points yesterday when a win would have guaranteed them a semi-final spot.
So there will be plenty at stake for both teams and a mammoth task awaits Katie Mullan's side as they bid to progress to the semis after never finishing higher than fifth among Europe's elite in the history of the event.
Upton admitted afterwards that the performance, particularly the success ratio in front of goal, comes as a confidence boost after the opening 2-1 loss to England.
The Munster woman said: "We knew we had a big performance in us and we are happy with the way we are going.
"It was good to get so many goals and see our set-pieces work so well as we needed to be more ruthless with our conversion rate from the chances we created.
"But we are under absolutely no illusions about the task that lies ahead against Germany, who are obviously a classy side.
"We'll give it a real go and see where it takes us, but we are moving in the right direction, although there are still areas we can improve upon and there will be no margin for error against the Germans."
Upton got her first with a rasping shot from the second penalty corner of the game in the fourth minute and further first-half goals followed from O'Flanagan and Wilson.
Upton made it 4-0 with a carbon copy of her first four minutes after half-time and, following Evans' goal from a rebound, the Limerick woman completed her treble.
Barr added number seven with a replica of the goal she scored against England, diving to connect with Wilson's delivery, and Evans made it 8-0 three minutes from the end of the third quarter.
In the 47th minute, O'Flanagan got her second and Duke brought up double figures with a fierce backhand shot with six minutes left.
There was just time for Upton to complete the rout and a fine day at the office with another corner in the dying moments with Belarus in total disarray and down to nine players.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
Yesterday: Pool A: Spain 1 Netherlands 1, Belgium 4 Russia 1; Pool B: Germany 1 England 1, Ireland 11 (R Upton 4, Z Wilson, B Barr, A O'Flanagan 2, N Evans 2, D Duke) Belarus 0.