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Dublin: 12°C Monday 23 November 2020

'Best performance I've seen in my 10 years here' - Irish Defence Forces through to World Cup quarter-final

A last-eight tie with Algeria awaits the Boys in Green on Wednesday.

Ireland's starting line-up for the win over the US.
Ireland's starting line-up for the win over the US.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

THE IRISH DEFENCE Forces are preparing for a quarter-final at the World Military Games, having booked their place in the knockout stages over the weekend.

Richie Barber’s team face Algeria in their last-eight tie on Wednesday (8am Irish time) — the second time the nations will meet at the tournament in Wuhan, China. 

Indeed, in their opening group match, Ireland were handed a 4-0 defeat by the north African side, who won the competition in 2011 and 2015. 

However, the Boys in Green bounced back with an excellent 2-0 win over the US on Friday. After a tight first half in which Avenue United forward Ronan Kerin had to make a goal-line clearance with his head, the same player then opened the scoring on the hour mark. 

Ireland soaked up the pressure and hit the Americans on the break, with Derek Walsh finishing off the move to double their lead on 82 minutes. 

Image from iOS (13) Lining for the national anthems ahead of the first Algeria meeting. Source: Irish Defence Forces

In the early hours of yesterday morning, they took on Qatar knowing a win would definitely send them through, and set up in a 4-5-1 formation with the plan to counter attack and cause problems from set pieces. 

Ireland found themselves behind after 15 minutes through a penalty, but they held their composure and Chris Kenny then equalised from a spot-kick in the second half. Gavin Dillon clipped the post in the dying minutes and Craig Shortt saw his shot cleared off the line as they pushed for a winner, before the match ended 1-1. 

The Irish squad and coaching staff then had a nervy wait to hear if they had qualified, but results elsewhere went their way with Brazil and France both losing — meaning progression to the knockout stages as the best third-placed team. 

Image from iOS (14) The Irish players in the dressing room. Source: Irish Defence Forces

“We’re the only non-conscript team left so it’s a huge achievement in that regard, especially when you consider the French and the Brazilians are gone home,” Barber told The42.

“It’s a tough draw, but we’re into knockout football now and we know what Algeria bring to the table. We’ll have time to look back on the first game and set up a plan that can get us into the semi-final of a World Cup.”

While Barber is extremely proud of how the entire squad and his staff have acquitted themselves so far, he singled out goalkeeper Ken Deegan, captain Sean Guerins, midfielder Chris Kenny and forward Ronan Kerin for special praise. 

“The lads have all played above themselves,” he added. “Our performance against Qatar was the best Irish Defence Forces performance I’ve seen in my 10 years involved with the team as a player and manager. To a man, we were absolutely outstanding — from the lads on the pitch to those on the sidelines supporting their team-mates. 

I’ve never seen a tighter group of lads, and they deserve to be in the quarter-finals. Hopefully, we can now go a bit further. 

“All the pressure is on Algeria because they are fully expected to beat us. They have everything to lose and we have everything to gain so we’re going to give it our best shot. I believe we can push them and maybe pull off a shock win.” 

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Barber Ireland Manager Richie Barber watching on from the sideline.

The footballers aren’t the only athletes representing the Irish Defence Forces in Wuhan right now, as there are four Irish boxers still left in contention for medals at this point.

Reigning senior national champion Danny O’Brien (91kg) booked his place in the quarter-final by knocking out heavily-fancied French opponent Michael Gavaj in the first round, while Leona Hoolahan is competing in a last-eight bout (75kg) tomorrow. 

Four-time elite champion Ross Hickey (69kg) was eliminated after picking up a head injury in his fight with Miliusha Dzmitry of Belarus, and Stephen Lockhart (64kg) and Michael Connelly (75kg) also lost out in their respective last-32 bouts. 

In the men’s Olympic trap shooting, Michael Byrne performed well but was unable to advance into the final from what was a world-class field. 

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Ben Blake

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