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As It Happened: Belgium 4-1 Ireland

Updated: Sunday, 25 Mar 2012 22:52

Nikki Symmons - the Ireland captain will lead the side in Belgium today
Nikki Symmons - the Ireland captain will lead the side in Belgium today

by Brendan Cole

70 mins FULL-TIME Belgium 4-0 Ireland Ireland do their best to the end but the hooter goes and that is that, the Belgians race on the field and celebrate joyously. This one is over, and the Belgians are the team that will go to London. Ireland will have to wait another four years for their next chance.

It was a great effort but a few plays that went against them in the first half have proved costly, and Gierts brilliant finish of that first goal was the real moment of class.

Different plays on the penalty corners in the first half might also have changed the complexion of this one but the experts are agreed Ireland can't complain about the results this time, even though the performance wasn't quite what they would have hoped for.

68 mins Belgium are finishing stronger, attacking down the Irish left but manage to get it out of there and win a free hit. Ireland's win over a heavily fancied Spanish team will be the highlight of this campaign.

65 mins Ireland have had some hits inside the Belgian half - Connery carrying it forward and Smyth also trying to get something going. A series of free hits, again down the right, ends with a long ball into the D going out over the endline.

Graham Shay reckons Smyth has been Ireland's best player. For my money, Sargent's play at the back has also been impressive.  

60 mins And it looks like Gierts - certainly a Belgian - has been yellow carded. Ireland get another chance soon after, Colvin's ball into the D trickling wide after Evans couldn't quite get the required touch. A long corner for Ireland follows, but Belgians run it out of defence and Connery tackles the ball to touch. A Belgian player is then forced off with an eye injury - it is van Regemortel.

59 mins GOAL Belgium But within 30 seconds, Erica Coppey's pull on a bouncing ball in the Irish D goes in to the Irish net despite a touch from Emma Smith in the Irish goal. Belgium 4-1 Ireland.

58 mins GOAL Ireland! And a simple drag flick by Audrey O'Flynn squirted low and under the keeper to put Ireland in with a glimmer of a chance! Belgium 3-1 Ireland

57 mins If anything Belgium are showing more energy in attack, though an early direct ball did get in the Belgian D.

The Irish turnovers mean it is hard to get bodies into the Belgian end, says Shaw.

Crowley runs out of defence and feeds Aine Connery who gets up near the top right of the pitch but again, it hits an Irish foot and Belgium lift it out. And Ireland get a series of hits in that areas before Emma Smyth drives into the D and wins a penalty corner.

53 mins Belgium are not attacking much at all says analyst Graham Shaw and it is clear that Ireland are finding it very hard to get the ball anywhere near the D.

Those six missed penalty corners will be the cause for much regret, as wil the slightly random nature of that first goal. A score would shake it up, but Belgium are happy to pass the ball back 40 yards and make Ireland chase it.  

50 mins And a Belgian player - Nelen - is whacked in the hip and goes down, O'Flynn's hit caught her. Belgium's bravery in defence has been a feature and Nelen paid the price, but they continue three ahead.

48 mins Ireland now have a hit near the Belgian endline but they can't create a chance and the Belgian's get it back in midfield.

Daly attacks down far side a few minutes later but Belgium engineer a free hit, tapping it off an Irish foot.

It is not clear if Ireland have lost the player for 5 mins or whether it was just a green card (2 mins off). We'll continue and clarify if it becomes clear.

44 mins Ireland's reluctance to put the ball in the middle - they are favouring the channels down the wings - is in stark contrast to Belgium's use of Gierts in a deep centre-forward role, says Shaw.

A clash under the stands sees Emma Smyth crash into a Belgian and it looks like she has been yellow carded. That is a major blow and it came from a nothing situation..

42 mins Symmons probes forwards and wins a sideline hit in the Belgian half but again, it comes to nothing. And then Alex Speers is bowled over from behind as Ireland counter attacked off a turnover and a Belgian defender is green carded.

A Sargent pass gives Ireland another chance but no forward can apply the required touch - a very good chance there, says Shaw on co-comm duty.

38 mins The teams are back out and Ireland need a huge performance to claim the 11th of 12 places available at London 2012.

Ireland's pasing is sharp to begin with but Belgium are working hard in defence and neither side can make headway at this early stage.

In fact, Belgium are the first team to get the ball in the circle but good defending, with Audrey O'Flynn throwing herself into a tackle, sees Ireland clear it. A great challenge, with no free conceded.

But Ireland stil can't get hold of the game says Shaw, and the basic skills of the Belgians are holding up better.

Analysis: Eimear Cregan reckons Ireland didn't settle and failed to keep the ball, which meant they could not generate rhythm. Emma Clarke should possibly have looked to make the high ball that Gierts scored from into a dangerous one by getting close to it. 

The penalty stroke award was harsh says Joe Brennan. The Belgium player had no shot on and a penalty corner shot have been called.

Cregan adds that the last goal came from a correctly awarded short corner and it was a result of Belgium doing their homework on the Irish defence - a simple push back to Gierts, who took the original hit.

Ireland's chances came from moving the ball well but they should have gone direct from the earlier corners. The Belgian defender running 'down the barrell' of the shot is brave, adds Joe Brennan.

35 mins And that is that - half-time, and Ireland are in a deep hole against a Belgium team that has played with composure and benefitted from having a nerveless goalscorer in Sofie Gierts.

Her first in particular was a fantastic piece of skill and really set the match up for her side.

34 mins A series of corners but no goal for Ireland.

The first one is defended, an O'Flynn flick flying over the bar after hitting a Belgian foot.

Belgium have gone to a video referral, claiming that they should get a free out as the ball was over knee height when it struck their player. The referee has said the decision is that the penalty corner should stand.But did the umpire say that Belgium keep their referral? Yes, she did.

And another O'Flynn flick is defended, with the Belgians charging down the 'barrel' of the flick and again being deflected wide by the foot.

That means another PC but the third corner sees O'Flynn's flick fly high and over, and that ends the threat.

32 mins Can Ireland mount a late attack and make this second-half challenge less daunting?

A midfield turnover puts them on the attack near the Belgian D and superb control by Emma Clarke sees Ireland eanr another Penalty Corner for a stick foul.....it is Ireland's fourth, and Ireland need this one badly.

29 mins Another turnover as Ireland tried to play it around the back puts Belgium on the front foot again and Gray - or was it a Belgian attacker - just stops a shot that looked dangerous.

Replays show that Gray got a foot to it, and also kept it from reaching De Vos, who was open in front of goal.

26 mins Ireland use O'Flynn this time but the Belgian keeper stops her flick on the stick side. Sargent gets a great chance then to put the follow up home but her swing flies high and over the bar.

Great chances.....eight minutes left in this half.

25 mins A long lift does not connect for Belgium but now they are using a full-court press and they win a turnover and then a free hit on the edge of the Irish circle. But a hit in from well outside is wide.

But Ireland can't get out of their half - too many long passes being tried says Shaw, who reckons Ireland need to believe in themselves and their short passing more.

Ireland do work the ball up to the Belgian half and then earn a short corner as the ball hits a Belgian arm. Will they go with O'Flynn this time?

22 mins Ireland are straight back on the attack and a lovely piece of skill from Nikki Evans has resulted in a penalty corner for Ireland. Ireland use a variation on their first corner and the shot hits a foot but their second goes wide to the left..

I think Sargent had a swing with the second, and Shaw on commentary is surprised they didn't use O'Flynn's drag-flick.

21 mins GOAL for Belgium! Disaster for Ireland, Gierts has another from a clever penalty corner. She took the initial hit, and it was bumped back to her as the Irish defence charged up and she had an easy finish. Belgium 3-0 Ireland

21 mins And Belgium are on the attack again, pressing down the right before crossing, and in the circle, Boon's shot is judged to have hit a foot. 

Sargent and the Irish players have asked for a video referral - you only get one of these.

Ireland claim the shot was going wide but the video appeal looks likely to fail as it hit Sinead McCarthy in the face. Penalty corner is the decision from the video ref, and Shaw was surprised that the Irish team used their sole referral.

Another penalty corner for Belgium coming up.

19 mins GOAL for Belgium Ireland hit it into the circle but it is well controlled and cleared. Shirley McCay hat that hit in, but might have held on a bit longer. And suddenly Belgium are up in the Irish circle a minute later and the ref awards a penalty stroke - probably for a stick tackle says Shaw, who says it is extremely harsh.

Boon was attacking and Nikki Symmons low reverse swing of her stick seems to have been the stroke that drew the call.

Gierts steps up to take and she places it high and to the right of Emma Gray to put Belgium on top. Belgium 2-0 Ireland

16 mins That goal came from very little, the ball was deflected high off an Irish stick and the finish was nervelessly applied to the bouncing ball.

A Belgian player has got a green card (2 minutes in the bin) but Ireland have dropped back a bit to try to stop Belgium getting in behind. They are trying to put more pressure on in midfield, says Shaw.

14 mins GOAL for Belgium Ireland's high press yielded a turnover in a dangerous position but Belgium got a free hit and almost got in behind. Their pass was not quite angled well enough and ran out over the end.

Still cagey stuff from both teams until Belgium win a long corner as Sargent breaks up another attack.

But then Belgium get a goal!

The ball flew into the air, and Gierts knocked it down with her hand on the edge of the circle and then pulled on it, smashing it past Emma Gray in the Irish goal. Ireland 0-1 Belgium

8 mins Ireland turn it over easily once or twice but Sargent is doing well, breaking up attacks at the back and there are a series of free hits in midfield.

Emma Smyth then runs into the Belgian circle but her cross is in front of everyone.

"Both teams nervous" says Shaw.

Ireland have a free hit at the 23m line but the ball flashes over the endline again - though this time Ireland get a long corner, but nothing much results.

5 mins The corner is a weak effort from the Belgians, the shot was poor and picked up by a defender. Belgium are soon back on the attack and Boon wins a hit for Belgium just outside the circile.

And the Belgian captain De Vos misses a sitter! The ball was flashed across and from a yard or so, she hit the side of the goal.

Two early let-offs.

4 mins Ireland are continuing to press hard but Belgium work it to a forward - Gierts possibly - and Audrey O'Flynn is hit on the leg inside the circle, giving Belgium a penalty corner.

Danger for Ireland.......

3 min And we're off. Graham Shaw reckons Ireland will aim to have high intensity from the start with a full press of the pitch early on.

Belgium tip-off but Ireland quickly get the ball with Emma Smyth running down the right and earning a free-hit. A shot into the side of the goal - well wide - ends that attack.

And it does look like Ireland are trying to press high up the pitch. Their first ploy is a long ball that runs out over the endline.

Emma Clarke attacks next and earns a free hit inside the Belgium half but this time Ireland dump the ball over the endline with an errant pass.

1530 Belgium had most of the ball during the meeting on Friday but Ireland won't be too worried about that and will be happy to sit on the half-court adds Brennan.

Graham Shaw, one of the most experienced Ireland players ever who retired in 2010, and Ger Canning are on commentary duty.

In Belgium, the sides have just come out onto the pitch, and Ireland's Call is the first anthem. The camera picks out some enthusiastic fans among the crowd of 3,000.

The Belgium anthem is next - they all adopt the same pose, arm on shoulder of a team-mate, stick out in front.

And we will be starting 70 minutes of action in the next minute or two under fine sunshine and on a clear day similar to what we're having in Ireland.

1528 Audrey O'Flynn and Cliodhna Sargent are among the key goalscorers from set pieces, says Eimear Cregan

1527 If you notice my hockey knowledge flagging at any point, or indeed if you want to send any other messages, give me a shout on twitter @brendcole or e-mail sportonline@rte.ie

1525 The Ireland women have never qualified for the Olympics (in case you missed it, the men missed out in hearbreaking fashion last week, losing to South Korea in their play-off).

It is winner takes all again today.

Ireland played "the game of their life" against Spain and the have the results and the confidence now, says Eimear Cregan in studio with Peter Collins.

Joe Brennan is the other expert - the important thing Ireland have been doing is consistently scoring goals, and they are a young side who are probably the most improved in the world over the last few years.

"I really fancy the girls in this one", he adds.

Ireland have beaten France, Russia, Mexico and Spain, and drew with Belgium in a dead rubber on Friday - a game that neither side will have shown much of their tactical ploys in.

Belgium and Ireland finished together at the top of the table but even though Ireland have been scoring heavily, Belgium's goal difference (+21) is significantly better than Ireland's (+13). 

Tip-off will be 3.35pm.

1510 Ireland play Belgium at the Beerschot Hockey club outside Antwerp at 3:30pm today, looking to seal a place in the London Olympics.

The good news from the Irish camp is that the tournament's leading goalscorer Audrey O'Flynn has been passed fit to play.

The Cork player, now with Hermes, has converted seven penalty corners this week, but received a bad blow to her jaw in the match against Spain on Thursday.

She missed the pool game between Ireland and Belgium on Friday when the sides drew one all.

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