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Ireland advance to EuroHockey semis
25 Aug 2015 20:08
Ireland have qualified for the semi-finals of EuroHockey Championships for the first time in their history after a 2-2 draw with Belgium.
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The Irish side finished on four points to go through on goal difference and knock out the world number four seed Belgium after a thrilling encounter in London this afternoon.
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Peter Caruth and John Jackson twice put Ireland in front but they had to withstand late pressure to hang on and advance.
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Belgium began the game in the ascendancy, with Sebastien Dockier skewing the first shot of the game wide, and Alexander Hendrickx being denied by the foot of David Harte in the Irish goal.
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Ireland spent the majority of the first quarter penned in their own half, as the Belgian frontline applied a strong press.
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And the high pressure almost paid off with the Red Lions earning the first penalty corner of the game, which was fired narrowly wide by Tom Boon.
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Only moments later, Jonathan Bruton came close to deflecting a shot past Belgian keeper Vincent Vanasch. And Ireland continued to get closer to the goalmouth at the start of the second quarter, with drag-flick specialist O’Donoghue forcing Vanasch to make a strong save.
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The Green Machine took an all-important lead with three minutes remaining in the first half, as Caruth jinked past the Belgium defence before crossing for O’Donoghue to tap home.
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Four minutes into the second half, Belgium found an equaliser as Florent Van Aubel blasted a shot at Harte, before Dockier slotted in the rebound.
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Ireland made a quick-fire reply in the 39th minute, as Jackson poked home a penalty corner routine after O’Donoghue’s initial drag-flick shot.
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A hectic third quarter came to a close with the Red Lions levelling the scores once again, as Van Aubel slid the ball underneath the Irish keeper in the 40th minute.
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With Ireland only needing a draw to reach the semi-final stage, Fulton’s side began to adopt a more defensive approach in the fourth quarter, which meant there were few chances at either end.
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In the dying moments, Belgium had a number of consecutive penalty corners, but the Ireland defence came through unscathed.
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Caruth told the International Hockey Federation's official channel: "What a game. We knew what we had to do. We had to come out and couldn’t defend for a draw.
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"We knew we had to take it to Belgium. They’re a side we haven’t beaten before. Some decisions didn’t go our way.
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"We are very pleased how we stuck in and fought well. There was bit of pressure but we practised for those situations. We knew it would come down to the wire today and would be a dogfight.
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"There is a whole new structure [for hockey] in Ireland and it is getting bigger. There are more people playing hockey.
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"The coaching staff has brought us on – we are getting fitter and getting strong. A lot of our players are still playing abroad. The Irish Hockey League is a big step up and it is all changing."
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Speaking on the disappointment of crashing out at the group stages, Belgium’s Felix Denayer said: “We came here to get to the semi-finals, so with this disappointment, we need to set new targets.
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“It’s a big disappointment, but I don’t think we played to our best level here.
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“Congratulations to Ireland, they did very well and I hope they do well in the semi-finals.”
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