Ireland made history as they won their second game at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup by a solitary goal over India.
Prior to this tournament Ireland had never won more than one match at a World Cup event. The win secures Ireland's place at the top of Pool B and means the second lowest ranked team is the first to qualify for the quarter-finals.
In the previous match, a comprehensive win for Spain over South Africa leaves the African continental champions needing a win over Argentina to avoid finishing last in Pool C. The 7-1 scoreline was a national record at a World Cup for Spain, their previous record was 5-1 against Nigeria in Madrid 1978.
The results mean that Ireland top Pool B, with England currently in second place on two points and India and USA tied on one point apiece. All the teams have one game left to play in the pools.
"In these matches, if you don't put your chances away then you won't get the outcome you perhaps deserve" Sjoerd Marijne
In Pool C, Germany are in pole position on six points, with Argentina and Spain on three points each. South Africa have no points. All these teams will be in action on Saturday 28 July when the final placings will be decided.
The day’s action started in Pool C, with Spain (FIH Hero World Ranking: 11) and South Africa (WR:14) taking to the field in the hot and humid conditions that have become a an unexpected feature of the showpiece event in London.
After both teams suffered defeat in their opening matches - Spain losing to Argentina, with South Africa going down to Germany - there was an urgent need to get points on the board in the hope of keeping their competition alive.
Spain’s Red Sticks were unquestionably the better team in the first two quarters. Their dominance of the opening period established a fully deserved 2-0 advantage, with Lola Riera’s unstoppable penalty corner drag-flick into the top right corner being complimented by a wonderful passing move that tore open the South Africa defence to enable Berta Bonastre to tap in one of the easiest goals she will ever score on the international stage.
Knowing that defeat to Spain would leave South Africa facing the unenviable task of beating Argentina in their final Pool C fixture, the continental champions of Africa came out fighting at the start of the third quarter and were quickly rewarded when Kara-Lee Botes forced home a penalty corner to give her team a lifeline.
However, the spark of a comeback was quickly extinguished when the rampant Spaniards hit three goals without reply to effectively end the contest before the fourth period had even started.
Vitality Player of the Match, Carlota Petchame made a significant contribution with two open play strikes of differing styles but both superb in quality before Carola Salvatella made it 5-1 with a close range finish at the end of the third quarter.
Spain continued their outstanding form throughout the fourth quarter, with their excellent penalty corner routines resulting in further goals. Riera made it 6-1 with another ferocious flick into the roof of the South African net before Bonastre joined Reira and Petchame as players with a two goal haul from the contest with another set-piece before the end.
"We have spent a long time working on penalty corners and for a while now they haven't come as good in tournaments as we would have liked them to” said Spain Head Coach Adrian Lock after the match.
“At Rio they weren't great, the execution let us down but today the result of a couple of years of weekly work came together."
The manner of the victory was a clear statement that Spain are very much a team to be feared in the competition, and will boost their confidence levels ahead of Saturday’s final Pool C match against in-form Germany.
Looking ahead to his team’s meeting with Germany, Lock said: "We know Germany well, a lot of our players play alongside some of the German players in Germany. We will focus on our game. They have outstanding players so we are conscious on what they can do but we will focus on us.”
Following the 1-1 draw between USA and England on Wednesday, Ireland (WR:16) went into today’s match against India (WR:10) knowing that a win would guarantee the lowest ranked team in the Pool B a quite remarkable first place finish.
Determined to build upon their surprise 3-1 triumph over USA on they opening day of the competition, the Green Army made the first mark on the score-board thanks to a wonderful penalty corner routine, with Anna O’Flanagan angling the perfect deflection high into the Indian net.
However, India were far from outplayed in the opening two quarters, creating numerous chances but failing to seriously threaten the goal occupied by Ireland shot-stopper Ayeisha McFerran. Vitality PLayer of the Match Shirley McKay was also at the heart of the Irish defence, urging the team to greater efforts in the sweltering heat.
India had the better of the third quarter and won a trio of penalty corners, but the continental champions of Asia failed to make the most of their opportunities and found themselves still trailing 1-0 as the two teams entered the final period.
Although Ireland were forced deep into their own territory for much of the quarter, the team coached by Graham Shaw missed a glorious chance to score a second when Nicola Evans failed to connect to a terrific pass across the face of goal.
India went for broke in the final five minutes, replacing goalkeeper Savita with an outfield player in an effort to get the goal that they were looking for. India captain Rani had a wonderful opportunity to give her side a share of the points, but her shot was confidently kicked away by McFerran to ensure that Ireland, the second lowest ranked team in the entire competition, became the first nation to reach the quarter-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018.
"I think if we look at possession and shots, then we had the lion's share," said India Head Coach Marijne Sjoerd, "But in these matches, if you don't put your chances away then you won't get the outcome you perhaps deserve.
"I am happy with the way we played, we just need to make sure we get an outcome when we face the USA [on Sunday 29 July]. A delighted Nicola Daly was almost rendered speechless as she reflected on Ireland's performance.
"Ah, it's just brilliant," she said, as her team's achievement began to sink in.
"It was really hot out there and I think both teams struggled but we had a game plan and stuck to it as far as we could.
"We don't fear anyone. We are ranked 16 and we have no pressure. And the crowd brings so much energy, that was a great turn-out again today and I expect we will have a great turn-out when we play England on Sunday."
Day 5: Results
Spain v South Africa 7-1
India v Ireland 0-1
The action continues on Friday 27 July at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre when China (WR:8) face reigning world champions the Netherlands (WR:1) at 18:00 (CEST+1), with the Asian continental silver medallists aiming to recover from their loss against Italy in their opening match. Korea (WR:9), heavily defeated by the Dutch in their first game, play a confident Italy (WR:17) at 20:00
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