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O'Flanagan thrilled as late strike keeps Irish in top tier

Ireland 2 Belgium 1

Staying up: Ireland celebrate their 2-1 win over Belgium, which means they avoid falling out of the top tier of the Euros
Staying up: Ireland celebrate their 2-1 win over Belgium, which means they avoid falling out of the top tier of the Euros

By John Flack

A stunning last-gasp goal from Anna O'Flanagan sealed a superb 2-1 win over Belgium for Ireland at the European Championship in the searing heat of Antwerp yesterday to guarantee they retain their top-flight status.

There were just 73 seconds left on the clock when the Muckross star applied a clinical finish to a terrific delivery from Shirley McCay as she despatched a crash ball into the danger area with a first-time deflection.

O'Flanagan said: "Sometimes you score and you don't even remember how it happens. It just fell to me and I got a nice touch to it."

Now, Ireland go into tomorrow's game with Russia needing only a draw to finish a record-equalling fifth overall but they could still achieve the feat with a loss as the hosts would then need to beat Belarus by a huge margin to spoil the script.

Pegasus defender McCay had a hand in both goals, setting up a first-half opener for Bethany Barr before the Belgians, roared on by a partisan home crowd, levelled matters after the long break.

McCay was winning her 294th cap, and has had a superb tournament. She has been solid in defence and dangerous on the occasions she has joined the attack.

Belfast Harlequins defender Barr said: "We have been practicing our set-pieces and we take a lot of pride in them and I was the one to get on the end of one today.

"We look at each team's weaknesses and what we can target so today we decided we would go down the middle of the goal and fortunately it worked.

"At 1-1, we had to be so concentrated and clued in and our aim was to win all the one v one battles, especially in the final quarter.

"It was important not to let them get on the ball and Belgium are a very good side so we are just delighted to get the win."

Barr insists Russia won't be easy opponents tomorrow and they could still stay up with a win over the Irish, following a 5-0 victory over Belarus in the other relegation pool match yesterday.

The 24-year-old added: "We want to finish strongly but Russia are a good opposition so we'll be doing our homework on them into tomorrow, so we are ready for Sunday to get the three points and finish on a high note.

"They are a very strong and physical side and have good set-pieces as well but we are excited about the game and again it will be important to win the one v one battles.

"We were disappointed not to get out of the group, we had some very good performances especially against England (2-1 defeat) and Germany (1-1 draw) so we want to finish on a high."

In yesterday's game, Belgium forced two early penalty corners with Ayeisha McFerran saving the first and Roisin Upton making a good block from the second.

But it was Ireland who took the lead in the 11th minute when McCay took a return pass at a set-piece and crossed for Barr to fire home from close range.

Ireland were awarded a penalty stroke in the 20th minute but the decision was overturned after a video referral, the third umpire ruling the ball was going wide when it struck a defender's body from Upton's shot.

Two minutes later, McFerran made a brilliant save from Jill Boon's volley after Ireland had failed to clear their lines.

Deirdre Duke was then denied by the Belgian keeper at point-blank range in the 42nd minute as play swung from end to end.

And just two minutes later, the hosts drew level when Ambre Ballenghien fired home unmarked at the far post after latching onto a pull-back from the baseline.

But O'Flanagan grabbed that all-important late winner to send the Irish supporters in the big crowd into wild celebrations just when it looked like the game would fizzle out into a draw.

Results: Pool C: Russia 5 Belarus 0; Belgium 1 Ireland 2 (B Barr, A O'Flanagan). Semi-finals: England 0 Netherlands 8; Spain 2 Germany 3.

Tomorrow: Pool C: Ireland v Russia (8am); Belgium v Belarus (10.15am). Third-Fourth place play-off: England v Spain (1.30pm). Final: Netherlands v Germany (3pm)

Belfast Telegraph


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