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Matthew Bell hoping to mark Ireland century in style

 

Century club: Matthew Bell will hit memorable milestone
Century club: Matthew Bell will hit memorable milestone

By Graham Hamilton

Matthew Bell is all set to win his 100th international cap when Ireland take on Singapore this afternoon (2.45pm) in their final pool game at the FIH Series finals in France.

The former Banbridge defender, now playing his club hockey in Germany with Krefeld, joins the century club just six years after making his debut and he wants the day to be a special occasion.

That means keeping fingers crossed that Scotland can spring a surprise on Egypt in the earlier game and then the Green Machine running up a big win over the lowest ranked team in the tournament at Le Touquet to claim top place in the pool.

It's a long shot, perhaps, as Sunday's shock 2-1 defeat against Egypt means that Alexander Cox's lads will probably have to take the longer and more difficult route if they are to reach Sunday's decider and claim a place in the autumn's final Tokyo Olympics eliminator.

The pool winners, with Egypt now clear favourites, go straight to the semi-finals but second and third-placed teams instead go into crossover quarter-finals against the sides from the other pool.

That's what it looks like for the Irish, probably a crossover game against Chile, and a win over the South Americans would send them through to Saturday's semi-finals where it would be either hosts France or Korea awaiting them.

But first things first and a big win over Singapore is crucial, not only for points but also for confidence.

The Irish are 25 places higher on the world ranking ladder than their opponents but they'll have to create more chances and be more clinical in front of goal if they are to make any impression in the competition.

The Asians have yet to score a goal, losing by three to Egypt on Saturday and by five to Scotland on Sunday.

And the Irish really need to punish them to remind the others that they are the highest ranked team of the eight competing nations.

Against Egypt, the Irish lacked quality and creativity in midfield.

They were often overrun in counter-attacks, and too often there were crash balls into the circle, the majority of which went straight to the opposition's sticks.

Cox is keeping his cards close to his chest but has likely warned his players that they need to get in behind defences more often if they are to have any chance of setting up proper goalscoring chances.

He wasn't happy about Sunday's performance where they were often predictable in their build-ups while the attack had precious little to go on, with ball after ball being cut out in and around the top of the circle.

And, of course, the failure to win almost certainly means an additional game - unless the Scots can do them a favour.

Today: Pool A: Scotland v Egypt (12.30pm); Ireland v Singapore (2.45pm).

Pool B: Ukraine v Korea (10.15am); France v Chile (5pm).

Tomorrow: Rest day.

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