Ireland’s Green Machine got back on track and booked a quarter-final showdown with fellow Europeans Poland, following a hard-fought 3-1 victory over South Africa in hot and humid Quilmes, Argentina, today.
Ireland coach Andrew Meredith grabbed his first competitive win, having watched his new side lose their first two games in Champions Challenge 1 against Argentina and Japan, despite his team showing promising signs in both games.
Goals from Andy McConnell, John Jermyn and Conor Harte were enough for Ireland, with Miguel Da Garca getting on the score sheet for South Africa.
In a frantic first half, Ireland grabbed the lead after only eight minutes when McConnell scrambled the ball home following good play from Mitch Darling.
South Africa were back on level terms at 1-1 within five minutes though as Ireland failed to clear following a penalty corner and Da Garca pounced to score.
The remainder of the half was played in a fast and furious manner around the centre of the field with neither team really opening the other up.
The two best chances of the half both fell to Ireland though with Timothy Cockram and Michael Watt going close for the Green Machine before the sides headed for the break all square.
The second half began with a short delay as one of the goals required some minor repair, but it wasn’t long before both sides were back in the thick of the action, with Ireland grabbing the lead for the second time in the 42nd minute through Jermyn on a short-corner variation.
South Africa, as expected, came back strongly following the goal, yet Ireland’s defence stood strong, including during a five-minute spell when Ireland were reduced to ten men as Darling was sent to the bench.
Despite significant South African pressure, Ireland went on to extend their advantage when Harte made the game virtually safe at 3-1 from a penalty corner in the 62nd minute.
Ireland played the remaining eight minutes out efficiently to claim a deserved victory.
Speaking after the game, a delighted Ireland coach Andrew Meredith said: “The result was a good reward for the players who have been improving half-by-half, game-by-game.
“Their work rate in the extreme heat here was outstanding and the result was just reward for their efforts.”
Today’s victory means Ireland finish third in Pool B this evening, and will face the second team in Pool A, Poland, in the quarter-finals on Thursday 29 November at 5:30pm GMT.
Ireland starting XI: D Harte, C Harte, Gleghorne, Gormley, Jackson, Jermyn, McCabe, Magee, Darling, Cockram, O'Donoghue.