Ireland and Spain make the semi-finals in Glasgow
Thursday was Quarter-finals day at the FIH Champions Challenge at a bitterly cold Glasgow National Hockey Centre as the eight teams entered the knockout stages of the tournament. With a Semi-final place as the prize, there it was ‘all to play for’ and all eight teams seemed to up their games and played four fantastic matches for the supporters to enjoy.
The first match of the day was South Korea v Ireland and the Koreans had, so far, swept all before them in their race to the Final. Ireland were, therefore, just another stepping stone on their way…. Or so they thought. It was a match of contrasting styles, with the Korean side patiently building from the back and Ireland using all of their Celtic flair and zipping the ball about the pitch. Flair that came to the fore after only three minutes of the match when No 24, Kathryn Mullen, lashed the ball home from a penalty corner for the opener. The match then continued in the manner described, but Korea were getting more edgy as the half progressed, evidenced by their coach who was, more than occasionally, raging at them from the sidelines. Just less than 15 minutes into the second half, they got their reward for persistence. Pressurising the Irish defence, they won a penalty corner and No 9, Hye Lyoung Han, found the back of the net. This was the signal to step up the pace and Korea dominated the game for the next 10 or so minutes. But Ireland came back and a series of three penalty corners got them back into the game and with the third being converted by Anna O’Flanagan, they were back into the lead. For the rest of the match, it was again all Korea, but they couldn’t break down the Irish defence – with particular praise to Emma Gray in the Irish goal – and so the team in Green progressed through to the Semi-finals.
Next match on the pitch was an all European affair between Belgium and Spain. Although the teams have a similar World Ranking – Belgium 12, Spain 14 – Belgium went into the match as clear favourites, but it was the, apparently, less favoured team who scored first with a sixth minute penalty corner, converted by No 3 Rocio Ybarra. The remainder of the half was largely dominated by Belgium, but Spain did manage to make the Belgians work in defence a few times. Then, nearing the end of the first half, Belgium struck back with a 31st minute goal from No 13, Alix Gerniers, to draw level at 1-1. The second half was much more even, with the frantic pace swinging from end to end. But, with no further goals the match went to penalties. These are played one-on-one, with the attacker starting on the 22 metre line and the goalkeeper able to advance once the opponent has moved off. After five attempts each and the score 2-2, it was down to ‘sudden death’. Spain’s Beatriz Perez was first up and she rounded D’Hooge in goal to put all the pressure on Belgium’s Gerniers. And the pressure told as she failed in her attempt to get past the ‘keeper – who performed a superb stick-stop from the strike – to give the match to Spain who then went wild in celebration. 3-2 to Spain and the second Semi-final place decided. Who would join them?
Images from the matches will appear here over the next few days.