Belfast Telegraph

In pictures: How Ireland girls secured World Cup semi-final spot with shoot-out success

 

From John Flack in London

The wonderful dream lives on after Ireland's women sensationally qualified for a World Cup semi-final with Spain tomorrow (2pm).

Graham Shaw's girls beat India 3-1 on penalties following a scoreless draw in the searing heat of London last night.

Ulster keeper Ayeisha McFerran was the heroine of the hour in the quarter-final, saving three penalties in a dramatic shoot-out after an error-ridden display from both sides in the 60 minutes that preceded.

But Ireland won't be complaining about that as they are still in dreamland following yet another magnificent result against a higher-ranked team at this tournament.

It was another gritty performance from Katie Mullan's side, who had to battle against 35 degree temperatures as well as opponents who are ranked 10th in the world, six places higher than the Green Army.

Whatever the result of tomorrow's game with Spain, the consequences for Ireland are immensely positive as they are now guaranteed fourth place at worst at this World Cup despite being ranked to finish 15th of the 16 nations.

Even if they were to lose against Spain, they would go into a bronze medal play-off, but they will want the dream to continue, after again beating higher-ranked opposition last night.

They have beaten Spain, who are ranked 11th in the world, several times in recent years and recorded a 4-0 win over them as recently as last January in Malaga.

As for the World Cup, putting things into context, in their three previous appearances at the showpiece Ireland had finished in penultimate place, but now their stock is set to rise as will their world ranking.

Ireland's initial target had been to get out of their group and then win a cross-over match in a bid to reach the quarter-finals but they have continued to surpass expectations.

They had beaten India 1-0 seven days earlier to top their pool but the Asians had produced their best performance of the tournament to qualify for the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win over Italy on Tuesday.

Last night's game was a cagey affair, with neither side able to create much in the way of chances and, too often, the final pass going astray.

India had the first shot on goal in the 10th minute, when Neha Goyal's first time effort from a right wing cross failed to trouble McFerran and drifted wide of the upright.

Ireland had a rare chance in the 24th minute when Mullan's cross was met by Anna O'Flanagan, who had scored in the group game last week, but this time the keeper blocked her shot.

Indian captain Rani shot wide from a good position two minutes later as the teams went into the break on level terms.

The first penalty corner of the game arrived in the 49th minute after an Indian video referral confirmed Hannah Matthews' foot had struck the ball.

But McFerran saved well from Rani and reacted quickly to sweep the ball away to clear any danger from the rebound.

The Larne woman performed heroics in the subsequent shoot-out, preventing the first three of the India team from getting their shots away.

After Roisin Upton and Ali Meeke had scored to make it 2-0, Reena Khokar pulled one back but Chloe Watkins kept a cool head to seal the deal and keep Ireland's incredible journey on track.

But while the Irish girls celebrated last night, there was disappointment for England who lost their quarter-final 2-0 to Netherlands.

It's hard to believe that the hosts, ranked two in the world and with eight Rio Olympic gold medallists in their ranks, are out of the competition but the Green Army - ranked 14 places below them - are one step away from the world final.

Lidewij Welten and Laurien Leurink scored the Dutch goals and they'll now meet Australia in the other semi-final.

Belfast Telegraph

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