Ireland took on tournament favorites and world number 7's Argentina in Santiago, Chile in what will be a dress rehearsal for the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier next February. The Irish men knew a draw would be sufficient to take them through to the final while Argentina were hoping to maintain their 100% record with a win.
The match started brightly and it was Ireland on the ascendancy as Maguire engineered a penalty corner but Ireland’s penalty corner expert Gleghorne failed to convert. With both sides trading counter attacks Ireland seized the initiative as Eugene Magee stole the ball and got behind the Argentinean defense to fire over the inch perfect cross which was spectacularly deflected home by the diving Mikie Watt to put Ireland one nil up.
Two minutes late Ireland nearly doubled the lead as the impressive Maguire eluded his defender and then found Cockram at the top of the circle but his reverse stick shot went narrowly over. As the half went on the South Americans came back into the game but David Harte was alert in the Irish goal particularly so just before the interval as he made two good saves and then Tim Lewis yet again was on hand to put his body on the line to deflect the goal bound shot around the post.
As the second half commenced Argentina put Ireland firmly on the back foot and Ireland struggled to make it out of their half, Burns and Gleghorne combined well defending a series of early penalty corners but they were unable to prevent the fourth corner as Dave Harte was beaten with a low drag flick to level scores on the 40th minute.
Ireland nearly replied immediately as Mike Watt ghosted down the left flank and along the base line but his flick only found the side netting.
However, Argentina continued to put Ireland under more pressure as the half went on as they went on the offensive to win the game and the Irish defense marshaled expertly by veteran Paddy Brown and ably assisted by the impressive Tim Lewis, Gormley, Lewers and Burns held firm.
As the half went on Ireland began to gain more possession and came more into the fast flowing end to end game with additional space being created as both sides went down to ten players. It was evident neither side were prepared to settle for the draw and, none more so than Ireland who at dead time won a penalty corner and Gleghrone’s effort which just tipped over the bar.
The game marked a special occasion as Mark Black reached his hundredth cap for Ireland and became only the third man to reach this landmark behind his brother Jason and David Hobbs.
Ireland Manager Steven Hiles commented “This was a hard fought draw and even more impressive given the heat in Santiago, some of the younger players in particularly showed they can compete against a top quality side like Argentina. This self belief will be important in the final and continuing forward into the Olympic Qualifier.”
Source: Ireland Hockey Association
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