Ireland 3 Uruguay 2
Aine Connery’s 55th minute winner saw Ireland guarantee their place in the quarter-finals of World League Round 3 as they survived a second half onslaught from Uruguay to prevail 3-2.
It means they are through with a group game to spare – a clash with USA on Tuesday – before playing their all-important quarter-final which will effectively hold an Olympic berth for the winner.
Ireland were made to work hard for the victory against the tournament’s lowest ranked side as they did not have the same polish that marked their opening games against South Africa and Germany.
Nonetheless, they built a 2-0 lead by the early stages of the second half.
Emma Smyth provided the impetus for the first pushing the ball into Kate Dillon whose touch lifted the ball away from two defenders.
It bounced into the path of Nikki Evans who selflessly played it around Rosanna Paselle to the sliding Anna O’Flanagan to finish. It was a classy move amid a sticky first half in which Ireland could not capitalise on early penalty corners while Uruguay gew in confidence.
The second arrived in the 36th minute as Lizzie Colvin hoovered up a loose clearance and whipped the ball right to Chloe Watkins. She lined up a perfect diagonal cross into the path of O’Flanagan and Evans – the latter got the key touch for her fourth goal of the competition.
But Uruguay began to punish the Irish indiscipline – they ended with four yellow cards and two green, totalling 24 minutes of sin-binnings – and got a lifeline when Janine Stanley showed some audacious skills down the right wing before flipping the ball over Emma Gray for her side’s first goal of the tournament.
In the 44th minute, Manuela Vilar dragged home a penalty corner to make it 2-2 and very much game on.
But Ireland got back to basics with a solid final quarter and won a couple of penalty corners. The first resulted in a mix-up but the other saw Cliodhna Sargent sweep to Connery to guide home for the victory.
Match winner Connery afterwards said it was “a tough game” but was delighted with how her side reacted in tough circumstances.
“With the amount of cards we got, it was disappointing from our point of view in terms of game management. But we showed good character at the end and were very focussed in what we had to do. I’m delighted we got the three points,” she said.
“We’re so excited with getting a quarter-final place. It was our aim when we started and we have achieved it and can start building towards it.”
Coach Darren Smith added: “I am happy we are in the quarter-finals. The first part of the mission is done. We picked up soft cards which put us under pressure and they were able to exploit that but I was happy with how we closed it out in the end in a potentially difficult closing ten minutes.
“We’d love to have made it easier but three points is three points. Sometimes, in the past in these occasions, we haven’t got the three points. Today, we did.”
Ireland: E Gray, C Sargent, E Smyth, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, M Frazer, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan
Subs: Y O’Byrne, G Pinder, A Connery, C Watkins, K Dillon, A Meeke, A McFerran