A tough day at the office for the Irish Senior Men saw them fall 6-3 to a talented young Belgian side in Rotterdam this morning.
Two goals in two first half minutes before a Chris Cargo reply saw them go in at the break 2-1 down and fighting hard, but six goals in twenty minutes of the second period left Andrew Meredith’s side beaten by the better team on the day.
The result means Belgium progress to the semi-finals and in doing so are guaranteed a place in next year’s World Cup.
Ireland now face Spain on Friday to determine their final classification game at the weekend, with a 5th place finish their best possible outcome.
Proceedings started tentatively, with both sides attempting to get a foot hold in the game. However, a Luypaert drag flick in the 9th minute was followed up less than sixty seconds later with a strong infield run and pass by Gougnard. His pass played in Briels who calmly dinked the ball over Davey Harte, leaving it 2-0 to Belgium after ten minutes.
Ireland struggled to cope with a classy Belgian side who pressed high and caused turnovers from the Irish men coming out of defence.
Some headway was finally made 8 minutes before the end of the half when a line ball from Loughrey on the right found Gormley who cut infield but found Belgian keeper Vanasch in the way of his reverse stick effort, Ireland’s first shot of the game.
A minute later Belgium countered and a mazy base-line run from Charlier allowed a slip to Dohmen on the P-spot, forcing Harte to make a great save. The follow up found Reckinger in space on the right of the circle but his crash ball to the back post somehow stayed out.
In the 30th minute a Loughrey reverse effort was saved by Vanasch, with the Green Machine finally gaining some headway in the game. They were rewarded for their efforts three minutes from time with a penalty corner after a Gleghorne slap found a Belgian foot in the circle. Harte’s initial flick was saved and a high ball meant Ireland had a second bite. This time a Harte dummy slip found Cockram to drag, and injector Cargo pounced on the rebound to volley home with style.
The goal was exactly what Ireland needed to get back in the game and the teams headed to the break with the score at Ireland 1 Belgium 2.
After halving the deficit the Green Machine conceded a soft goal four minutes into the restart when they fell foul to the recent own goal introduction. A crash ball from Luypaert on the left was deflected in by Ronan Gormley in front of goal, leaving Harte rooted to the ground.
John Jackson stepped up minutes later to roof a slip drag, reducing Belgium’s slender lead to one. It was an emphatic finish by the Mossley man, bringing Ireland right back into the game.
A penalty corner rebound in the 9th minute was well saved by Harte, as Belgium once again squeezed the life out of the Irish back four. Another crash ball from the left by Dockier on 15 minutes found Boon in front of his marker, his deflection via Jonathan Bell nut-megging Davey Harte to make it 4-2.
Belgium made it five in the 19th minute of the half when Shane O’Donoghue was dispossessed by Dohmen on the half way line. His deftly threaded through ball cut the seams of the Irish centre halves allowing Boon to dive and expertly clip the ball over the oncoming Harte and leaving the Green Machine with a long way back.
Credit to Ireland who never gave up and fought hard to make some headway going forward. They were rewarded for their efforts with 13 minutes to go when patient build up play found Cockram on the left, whose sweeping cross allowed Gleghorne to deflect home and make it 5-3.
The goals kept coming and the ninth of the game came only two minutes later when Ireland failed to clear their lines after a penalty corner save from Harte. Dockier was given acres of space in front of goal to slot home and make it game over with ten to go.
An Irish penalty corner effort on the final hooter smashed the left-hand upright, leaving the final score Ireland 3 Belgium 6.
Speaking to hockey.ie after the game coach Andrew Meredith said “Belgium are a very good side who have just won their 19th consecutive game. We knew it would be difficult, and that today for us a group, it was all about the performance. I thought that after the initial difficult phase in the first 15-20 minutes, we worked hard and got ourselves back into the contest, and probably played some of our better hockey. The 2nd half was patchy, and our lapses were punished. We executed our set pieces much better today, both offensively, and defensively, but to concede 2 own goals was very, very disappointing.
Meredith continued “The critical moment was conceding the 3rd goal, and unfortunately it is another example of why the own goal experimentation is an unnecessary intrusion into our game, particularly after we changed the rules to try and stop balls being crashed into the circle. In our case, the 3rd goal came against the run of play in our most positive phase of the Tournament. How is that a reward for trying to play positive hockey, particularly when the camera positions are poor for video referrals at this tournament? We are no longer in control of the qualification process, and must now regroup as quickly as possible, take the positive steps we made forward, and look to give our best performance to date in the next game.
Ireland will now regroup to face Spain on Friday at 11.30 am Irish time.
Ireland Starting XI: D. Harte, Jackson, Gormley (C), Cargo, Sothern, Caruth, McConnell, Cockram, Maguire, Gleghorne, C. Harte