Vitality Hockey World Cup, London
Ireland 3 (Upton, Meeke, Watkins)
The Green Army have continued their history-making run by beating India in a penalty shootout to secure their place in the World Cup semi-finals.
Despite the possession stats saying the opening quarter was relatively even, it was certainly the Green Army that had the more concrete chances. Gillian Pinder and Nikki Evans were the first to test the Indian defence, before Shirley McCay slipped the ball to Anna O’Flanagan but she was robbed of the ball before she could get the shot away.
It was a physical encounter with Evans taking the brunt of the Indian midfield tackles but Lena Tice sent a pass to her in the circle but it was poached before she could do any real damage. Monika looked threatening at times for India but Ayeisha McFerran had very little to do in the opening 30 minutes.
The Green Army went up a gear as the half progressed with Katie Mullan sending the ball in from the right wing but Savita smothered the ball before the diving O’Flanagan could get the touch. The midfield engine room were working over-time with Lizzie Colvin and Chloe Watkins both bypassing their Indian counterparts but the opening goal wouldn’t fall for the Irish before the half time hooter echoed around a full stadium.
Ireland continued with the same dominance early in the second half with both McCay and Yvonne O’Byrne sending crash balls into the circle for the chasing Mullan. Nikki Pradhan and Rani started to step up for India and were the root of any creativity from the world number 10. Watkins looked to have infiltrated the Indian defence with a pin point pass to O’Flanagan in the circle but it was intercepted before reaching the awaiting sharp shooter.
India won the only penalty corner of the game in the 49thminute but Rani’s shot from the top of the circle was saved and cleared by McFerran. Both sides looked to be tiring in the dying moments as the temperature refused to budge below 30 degrees and a shootout looked inevitable with the Irish defence remaining rock solid.
Nobody scored in the opening two rounds with both Nicci Daly and O’Flanagan been driven wide by Savita in the India goal while McFerran continued her imperious form to deny Rani and Monika. It was Roisin Upton who broke the deadlock in the third round of shuttles before McFerran again saved, denying Navjot Kaur. Ali Meeke then put Ireland 2 in front but Reena Khokhar got one back for India. Watkins stepped up to win it and with the calmness that only 198 caps can bring she slotted home to put Ireland into their first ever World Cup semi-final.
Commenting after the game, head coach Graham Shaw said “I’m just so proud of the group of players. It was really difficult at times, India are a very good side but we dug so deep. To go to a shootout and bury some demons is also really important for us, I’m just full of pride. I felt if we could score 2 then we’d win because Ayeisha is an incredible goalie, she’s so difficult to score against”.