IRELAND 0 BELGIUM 0
Ireland who are World ranked #13, began their Olympic qualification Pool A campaign with a defiant ‘backs to the wall’ performance against the European Silver medallists from 2023 and World Ranked #4 Belgium.
Charlotte Engelbert forced a penalty corner after only 20 seconds. It was the first of nine such corners awarded against Ireland in the first half. But the Irish defense marshalled by Lena Neill, Hannah McLoughlin and Roisín Upton and backstopped by player of the match Ayeisha McFerren were able to hold out not only in quarter one but quarter’s two and three as well.
Ireland were up against it for most of the first half. It was scoreless at half-time. McFerren made several saves including a double save from a penalty corner to keep Ireland in the match.
The third quarter saw Ireland gain a fair bit of possession, but they seemed to be unable to carve out too many clear-cut opportunities turning over the ball at times. It wasn’t until the fortieth minute that the first penalty corner for Ireland was awarded but Belgian substitute goalkeeper Elode Picard wasn’t troubled by Chloe Watkins’ effort nor Beth Harper’s attempt on the rebound.
Ireland had made good use of video referrals early on in the game getting two penalty corner awards overturned in the process. Neither side seemed capable of captilising on having an extra player. Belgium had one player green carded in the thirty fourth minute and Ireland had three players green carded at different stages in the second quarter.
The drama didn’t end there. In the final six seconds Belgium looked for a video referral as they claimed the ball hit an Irish foot inside the semi-circle. The video referral was inconclusive so Belgium had to face a free out and lost their video referral. The final blew soon afterwards and the score stood as it had at the first whistle, Ireland 0 Belgium 0.
This point which must be looked at as a bonus at this stage, is an excellent start and must be followed up strongly by a win on Monday morning against Ukraine. Then there will be the final pool match against Japan but a point against the pre-tournament favourites is a very good start indeed but must be followed up on.
Sean Dancer Ireland Head Coach said after the game:
“Belgium dominated the game, particularly the first half and are an excellent team. But we came into it a bit more in the third quarter and created a few chances. Ireland performed better in the second half.”
The final match of the day was the second Pool A game between Korea and Ukraine. Elsewhere in Pool A Great Britain defeated Canada 2-0 and Spain had a comfortable win over Malaysia by 7-0.
IRELAND: Ayeisha Mc Ferren, Bethany Harper, Elena Neill, Hannah McLoughlin, Katie McKee, Sarah Hawkshaw, Charlotte Beggs, Katie Mullan (c), Deirdre Duke, Naomi Carroll SUBS USED: Niamh Carey (3 mins), Chloe Watkins (3 mins), Sarah McAuley (4 mins), Michelle Carey (7 mins), Sarah Torrans (7 mins), Róisín Upton (7 mins)
BELGIUM: Aisling D’Hooghe, Justine Rasir, Alix Gerniers, Judith Vandermeiren, Emma Puvrez, Louise Versavel, Vanessa Blockmans, Michelle Struijk, Héléne Brasseur, Stephanie Vandenborre, Charlotte Engelbert, SUBS USED: Elodie Picard (GK) [31 mins], Ambre Ballenghen (3 mins), Barbara Nelen, Camille Belis (4 mins), Lien Hillewaart (5 mins). Abi Raye (5 mins)