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Heartbreak for Ireland as quarter-final shoot-out defeat dents Olympic hopes

China advance to the last four at Ireland’s expense.

All hope is not lost for Ireland.
All hope is not lost for Ireland.
Image: Stanislas Brochier/INPHO

Ireland 1

China 1

THE IRISH WOMEN’S hockey team suffered heartbreak in Valencia as they lost a shoot-out to China in their World Hockey League quarter-final.

The game finished 1-1 after regular time and the drama continued into the shoot-out with Ireland spurning an opportunity to seal a place in the last four before China prevailed 4-3 in sudden death.

China advance to the semi-finals having secured a place at next summer’s Olympic games. For Ireland, all is not lost.

While only the top three finishers are officially ensured of qualification for Rio, the fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams could yet still earn a place at the Games depending on results from other continental tournaments.

Ireland will now enter the classification matches with their next opponents yet to be determined.

Hannah Matthews and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after the game Hannah Matthews and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after the game. Source: Stanislas Brochier/INPHO

No Irish hockey team has ever qualified for the Olympics and not since 1948 has any Irish team qualified for the Games.

Darren Smith’s side dominated for large periods of the game but fell behind as China, who are currently ranked seventh in the world, took advantage of a defensive mistake.

Ireland persevered, however, and continued to have the majority of the possession and were duly rewarded in the second-half as Chloe Watkins converted after fine work from Kate Dillon at the top of the circle.

Ireland thought they had won the tie with minutes remaining when a penalty corner fell to Megan Frazer but her goal was ruled out after the umpires went upstairs to review.

The replays showed the ball had struck an Irish foot in the build-up and the jubilant celebrations among the large Irish contingent in the stands were cut short.

Agony was to follow as the lottery of the shoot-out saw the momentum shift between the sides with each passing attempt.

Chloe Watkins Goalscorer Chloe Watkins in action. Source: Stanislas Brochier/INPHO

“It’s devastating to lose in a shoot-out. All you want is that ticket to Rio and we put our heart and soul into that match,” Smih said afterwards.

“We could have been more clinical from our penalty corners. They defended them pretty well but it was a tight and tough match.”

Smith introduced substitute goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran for the shoot-out and it was a tactical decision which paid immediate dividends.

McFerran thwarted Jiaojiao De to give Ireland the upper hand and Frazer put Ireland into the lead with a well-worked goal.

With the scores locked at 3-3, McFerran made another terrific stop to hand Nicola Evans the chance to make history but she was unable to convert before China held their nerve to go through.

“From our perspective, we need to make sure we are determined and focused, defend well and tackle well and get into that fifth/sixth place playoff and give ourselves a chance of going to Rio,” Smith continued.

“It might be a little bit of hurt for the next while but we hope that clears and we get the girls back into it.”

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Ryan Bailey

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