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Irish World bid still alive despite loss

 

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team have missed out on their first chance of booking a coveted place in next year's World Cup following an agonising 2-1 defeat by Argentina at the qualifying tournament in Johannesburg yesterday.

However, Ireland will have two more opportunities at the World League 3 event to progress, the first of which will be against South Africa - beaten 1-0 by Germany last night - tomorrow (1.30pm).

Should they win that game, then Ireland will secure a berth in the showpiece for the first time since 2002.

However, defeat against their hosts would then see Ireland enter the last chance saloon as they would need to win their final classification game to finish seventh overall and have a realistic chance of achieving their aim.

Yesterday Ireland trailed 2-0 after 40 minutes but pulled a goal back through Roisin Upton shortly afterwards to set up a grandstand finish.

However, things went badly wrong near the end when, after withdrawing Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran to have an extra outfield player, the numerical advantage was negated when they had team captain Katie Mullan sent to the sin-bin.

Mullan literally 'took one for the team' due to her status as skipper as Ireland were penalised for momentarily having 12 players on the pitch.

There was no way back in the circumstances and world number three side Argentina were content to skilfully wind the clock down by keeping possession in the corners.

National coach Graham Shaw got his tactics spot on by setting up defensively and attempting to hit the south Americans on the break although Irish chances were at a premium.

Shaw said: "We are obviously disappointed at losing the game and we started a little too tentatively and allowed them to control too many phases.

"The second-half was a lot better and we put them under a lot of pressure as a result. We are very confident going into the 5th-8th play-offs and looking forward to the challnge."

Ireland made a nervous start to the game and McFerran had to be alert to keep out a deflection off Hannah Matthews' stick when the Loreto player was under pressure in the third minute.

Shortly before the end of the opening quarter, Argentina mustered their first shot on target when Maria Ortiz swept the ball goalwards, forcing McFerran into a decent save.

The Argentinians broke the deadlock in the 25th minute after Ireland were caught in possession and Ortiz's pass was collected by Delfino Merino, who crashed the ball into the empty net after rounding McFerran who had dashed off her line to the edge of the circle.

The south Americans doubled their lead in the 40th minute when Julia Gomez hammered in the first penalty-corner of the game to make it 2-0.

Three minutes later, Ireland gave themselves a glimmer of hope when sub Upton expertly converted a set-piece but it was to no avail although Mullan went close before being binned near the end through no fault of her own.

Meanwhile, Ireland's men can qualify for the World Cup at the first time of asking if they can defeat Spain in their quarter-final this afternoon at the same venue (12.30pm).

IRELAND: McFerran, Mullan, McCay, Tice, Pinder, Watkins, Daly, Matthews, O'Flanagan, Wilson, Duke. Subs: O'Byrne, Evans, Beatty, Loughran, Upton, Colvin.

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