Walker double puts Irish men within one win of 2023 World Cup

Men’s FIH World Cup qualifier
Ireland 2 (B Walker 2) Russia 0

Ben Walker’s double put Ireland within one win of the 2023 World Cup as they got the best of Russia 2-0 in Cardiff with a composed defensive performance.

Walker swooped in the first five minutes of each time with close-range finishes to left-wing crosses to make the difference.

Around that, Ireland were cool and calm at the back with Jamie Carr recording a clean sheet with some robust stops while the likes of Conor Harte, Kyle Marshall and Lee Cole left precious little through.

It means a win on Saturday against either Wales of Italy would stamp the Green Machine ticket to India 2023 and in that context, Walker described it as “a perfect start but only have the job is done”.

“We have a bit of time to recover and it is hard to get too excited over one game because it will mean nothing if we don’t see it through then.

“We were very solid at the back and Jamie [Carr] did pull off some fantastic saves which kept us 1-0 in the first half. We had a good mindset, took our chances when they came and probably could have had one or two more.”

Captain Sean Murray concurred, adding: “In a must-win game, it wasn’t the prettiest but we are happy to come away with the 2-0 and move on, do the homework on whoever we play next from Wales or Italy.

“We all know defence will win us the game; if we shut the back door then the lads will do the job up top. Sometimes they had counters but the lads did well to break things down, put in the good tackles and, with Jamie in nets – a world class goalkeeper – he made the saves he had to make which made the difference.”

It took just four minutes to get up and running with a brilliant turnover 60-metres out from goal was transformed into a rangy run from John McKee. He drifted left before clipping across goal where Walker was crouching low to deflect home.

Conor Empey – in his tournament debut – flashed over another chance soon after before Russia settled, aiming to deploy their counter-attacks from distance. They also drew a first corner which Tim Cross charged down well.

Alexey Sobolevskiy went inches wide with another chance but, by and large, Ireland were absorbing their attacks with relative comfort and they carried the 1-0 lead into half-time.

One became two in the 33rd minute, this time Shane O’Donoghue was the creator with a quick free down the left corner and he picked a fine angle for his cross. Walker nipped in front of his marker and guided in another sweet first-time finish.

And that was how it remained as Russia never really picked up enough momentum to threaten a comeback while Tumilty’s side had a couple of counters which could have yielded more tangible rewards.

Sobolevskiy’s shot on the turn was booted away by Carr while his counterpart Ivan Ozherlev produced an incredible block to deny Cole from an Irish penalty corner which would have killed the game off with seven minutes to go.

It was not required, though, and Ireland’s two senior national teams – following the women’s 4-1 success over France earlier – can now enjoy a Friday to rest and recover having significantly advanced their World Cup hopes.

Ireland: J Carr, T Cross, J McKee, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J Duncan, M Robson, B Walker, L Cole
Subs: L Madeley, D Walsh, N Glassey, P McKibbin, C Empey, S Hyland, M Ingram

Russia: I Ozherelev, N Yankun, S Matkovskiy, A Skiperskiy, E Artemov, P Golubev, I Loginov, A Borisov, A Sobolevskiy, D Starienko, I Zamalutdinov
Subs: D Kuraev, G Arusiia, D Bereza, D Zheleznyakov, A Dryanitsyn

Umpires: I Diamond (SCO), P van den Assum (NED)