The Ireland women’s hockey team have an uphill task on their hands if they are to progress to the next stage of World Cup qualifying after losing 2-0 to Belarus in their second game at the World League 2 tournament in Valencia on Tuesday.
Now they must almost certainly defeat Spain and Italy in their next two games to proceed to the next stage of the process after a decent 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening game.
It was confirmed by the International Hockey Federation that one of the next phase tournaments will take place in England and that would be welcome as it would be less expensive a trip.
But first Ireland must almost certainly defeat Spain and Italy in their next two games to progress to an even more difficult stage of the qualifying process.
Neither of those games will be easy as Italy drew Italy earlier in the Valencia tournament and the hosts Spain are expected to be Ireland’s most difficult opponent.
The Spanish have defeated Ireland on two occasions in recent weeks during a training camp although Darren Smith’s team won the other match in a three match friendly series.
On Tuesday the Kiwi was none too happy at his team’s performance against a side ranked six places lower in the world than themselves.
“We started tentatively and got a bit too anxious when we went behind. Penalty corners proved to be the difference.” he said.
“The Belarus team converted two of theirs while our chances went a begging. We will have to do our homework well now to get a good result from our next match against Spain.”
Just one Ulster player made the starting line up, namely team captain Alex Speers, the former Pegasus player as Katie Mullan and Michelle Harvey were omitted from the side.
Ireland paid the price for too many unforced errors and a lack of ability to finish off chances against a dogged and determined Belarus side.
They had the better of a first half without really creating many clear cut scoring opportunities as the Irish were guilty on a number of occasions of losing possession in the middle of the field and failed to find any real rhythm to their play in the opening period.
Ireland began the second half with renewed vigour but their finishing in front of goal lacked a cutting edge.
They did manage to force several early short corners thanks to good play from UCD players Anna O’Flanagan and Nikki Evans but they were unable to convert the awards
Ireland were retaining possession of the ball better but a lapse of concentration saw Belarus steal the ball back and shoot inches wide in a one-on-one situation with Ireland keeper Emma Gray.
They edged in front with 15 minutes to go when Batura deflected a penalty corner past the helpless Gray for a well taken goal and, at that stage, it was hard to see Ireland getting back into the game.
It was a body blow to the Irish who kept working hard in an effort to pull back the deficit but the style and passing which typified their second half performance against the Czech Republic in their opening 4-1 win was sadly lacking.
Belarus forced a series of set pieces in the dying minutes and Ireland had difficulty clearing their lines as the conceded three in quick succession due to inadequate defending.
Inevitably the pressure told as Belarus extended their lead from the third of these awards as Strayezhka hammered the ball home from an acute angle after the initail move had broken down.
The girls in green did manage to mount several attacks near the end but a disappointing day at the office was summed up when they made a hash of a penalty corner in the last couple of minutes.
Ireland will have a three day break to recharge the batteries and put some work in on the training field before the now two crucial games this weekend against Spain and Italy.
They clearly have a lot of work to do on their general play, retaining possession of the ball and possibly most important penalty corners whih are such an important source of goals in modern hockey.