On a remarkable day of action, Ireland and Netherlands completed the line-up for the semi-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, booking their tickets to the final four with victories over India and host nation England respectively.
Ireland yet again defied their 16th position in the FIH Hero World Rankings to claim a shoot-out victory over India, ensuring that the Green Army’s fairy-tale story would continue into the final weekend.
Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was again a star for Ireland, conceding just once in the shoot-out to set up a semi-final meeting against Spain on Saturday 4th August at 1400 (UTC/GMT+1).
The Netherlands broke the hearts of the host nation with a deserved 2-0 triumph over England in front of 10,500 fans, with Vitality Player of the Match Lidewij Welten and Laurien Leurink both on target as Oranje maintained their impressive title charge in London.
The Dutch will now face Australia in this Saturday’s semi-final, which will take place at 16:30 local time. Ireland (WR:16) had already created history simply by reaching the quarter-final phase, eclipsing anything that the Green Army had achieved in previous editions of the Hockey Women’s World Cup.
However, the team coached by Graham Shaw were determined to ensure that their staggering run in London was not about to end when they faced India (WR:10).
Ireland’s 1-0 win over the Eves in Pool B was certainly reason to believe that they could secure a dream place in the semi-finals, although India’s excellent 3-0 cross-over play-off victory against Italy on Tuesday ensured that the Asian continental champions were justifiably confident about their own chances.
The two teams cancelled each out for much of the match, with India putting in place an excellent defensive strategy to reduce the effectiveness of Ireland’s potent counter-attacking style on another hot evening in London.
Irish attacker Anna O’Flanagan had two chances in quick succession in the second quarter but failed to test India’s ever impressive shot-stopper Savita, while Ireland goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was a spectator for much of the half.
India’s biggest chance to score arrived in the final quarter when India captain Rani drilled a penalty corner shot into the pads of McFerran before Elena Tice cleared the danger. It was the only penalty corner of a game, which always seemed destined to end in a shoot-out, and what a shoot-out it proved to be.
McFerran, who has been one of the standout players at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, was sensational in the one-on-ones, denying India captain Rani and Navjot Kaur with wonderful saves while forcing Monika to shoot wide.
McFerran’s goalkeeping heroics were capitalised on by Roisin Upton and Alison Meeke who both scored to make it advantage Ireland.
Reena Khokhar kept India in the contest when she made the score 2-1, but Chloe Watkins made no mistake with a cool finish to trigger scenes of unrestrained joy from the Irish players, coaching staff and fans packed into the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.
"We just tried to go out and impose our style on India”, said elated Ireland international Elena Tice at the end of the match.
“At times it wasn't pretty and we could have taken a few more chances but we kept going. We wanted to put them under pressure from the start and go forward the entire game. At times it went okay and at times we were turned over but our defence is really tough. The defence is prepared to take the hits.”
Referring to the atmosphere generated by the capacity crowd watching the action, Tice said: “It was absolutely unbelievable out there. It felt like it was all Ireland and when our legs began to ache, the crowd really got us going. We try to go into every game without fear. We are the underdog every time we play but we want to push on, become a top 10 team and expect to win."
Whilst it was not the outcome that India had desired, Head Coach Sjoerd Marijne felt that the experience gained in London will prove vital to their title challenge at the upcoming Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia.
“I think the girls will be proud of what they achieved so they will have lots of confidence [for the Asian Games]”, said Dutchman Marijne.
“Now they don't feel that, but they soon will. This has given them the experience of playing on the big stage, doing shoot-outs under high pressure. They will take all of that to the Asian Games."
The atmosphere in the stadium throughout the match between Pool A winners Netherlands and England, who had reached the quarter-finals after beating Korea in the cross-over play-offs on Tuesday, was absolutely electric. The home fans turned up in their thousands in the hope of witnessing England record what would be a famous victory over the reigning world champions, a team that had scored an incredible 26 goals in the three matches they had played ahead of this fixture.
The Dutch were on fire in the opening period, putting the England defence under huge pressure. Caia van Maasakker issued a warning when she rattled England’s crossbar with a fierce penalty corner flick before 2015 Hockey Stars Player of the Year Lidewij Welten opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Xan de Waard was the creator, sending a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Welten who made no mistake with a first-time shot between the legs of Hinch.
The relentless Dutch pressure continued in the second period, with Hinch again called into action before Susie Petty cleared a goal-bound shot off the line to keep the score at 1-0 going into half time.
However, that all changed one minute after the break when the quality of the Dutch attacking line shone through again. This time Welten – later named Vitality Player of the Match - was the creator, splitting the English defence with a pass to find Frederique Matla, who in turn eliminated Hinch with a square pass for Laurien Leurink to tap into an open goal.
Much to the appreciation of the home crowd, England gave an excellent showing in the final quarter but could not find a breakthrough.
While it was a heart-breaking defeat for the hosts, the Netherlands were worthy winners of the contest and will take some stopping here in London.
After the game, Caia van Maasakker said: "It starts with us being hungry and working hard for each other. Our passing and keeping the pace up are the heart of our game.
"We have some great skills and we try to always keep the pace as high as possible."
England's experienced defender Hollie Pearne-Webb was pragmatic: "Looking back, we have had a fairly good tournament, although we should have got better outcomes from the first two games. We need to learn to turn up for the pool games. We only conceded one penalty corner and for us that is the best defensive perforamnce we have had against them.
"Now we must look at when we win the ball and making more of our chances. I am full of optimism going forwards.
"We are missing some experience in the squad and the new girls are still finding their feet. they will grow in confidence. The hurt and disappointment of this loss will put and extra fire in all our bellies."