REPORT: Ireland shock Spain to reach Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup

Ireland World Cup
The fairy tale of the Ireland women’s hockey team continued as they advanced to the final of the Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup. 

To date, their best showing at a World Cup was on home turf in 1994 when they finished 11th. Coming into the tournament world-ranked sixteenth, they were not expected to make it out of the group, but have beaten the USA, India twice, and now Spain. 

Remarkably, they are one of the last two teams standing, and will play world number one, the Netherlands, in the final. 

Ireland’s captain Kathryn Mullan said afterwards: “I’m on top of the world, it’s just amazing to think that we’re in the World Cup final tomorrow. 

“We came over here living a dream of playing in a World Cup. We wanted to make an impact – you couldn’t ask to make a bigger impact than getting to a World Cup final.” 

“Today was for us. We said in the changing room before the game, we wanted to win this game for this group of players.”

As with their quarter-final against India, Ireland were reliant on the shootout to progress against Spain. After full time ended 1-1, they won the shootout 3-2 thanks to two successful conversions from Gillian Pinder and more brilliance from ‘keeper Ayeisha McFerran.

Ireland took the lead only three minutes into the match. At a short corner won by Mullan, Zoe Wilson’s slap from the top of the ‘D’ was deflected home by Anna O’Flanagan.

Ireland remained the dominant force in the first quarter, with Spain seeming taken by surprise by the pace, physicality – and sheer will to win – of the Green Army.

The second quarter was closer, with both sides having chances. Spain were achieving many more circle entries, and on one occasion the ball fell to Carola Salvatella who, with back to goal, improvised brilliantly to strike the ball through her legs and narrowly wide of Ayeisha McFerran’s left post. 

Deidre Duke was at the heart of Ireland’s best work in this period. Firstly, she made room for herself in the ‘D’ and hit a well-struck backhand, forcing a save from Spanish ‘keeper Maria Ruiz. Next, Duke’s purposeful run into the ‘D’ won a short corner for the Green Army that was slapped just wide by Hannah Matthews. 

By the next quarter the pendulum had swung Spain’s way. The Red Sticks served warning to their opponents in the 36th minute when Carlota Petchame pushed weakly towards goal when well positioned in the area.

Three minutes later, their equaliser arrived. Alicia Magaz received a cross from the right and took a touch to control, before slamming the ball into the backboard to make it 1-1. 

Nervousness crept into the play in the final quarter, and there were only half-chances for both sides through Duke and Spain goalscorer Magaz, as the game drifted towards a shootout. 

After five attempts each in the shootout, the score stood at 2-2, with Gillian Pinder and Chloe Watkins converting for Ireland, and Georgina Oliva and Lola Riera for Spain.

Oliva took the first sudden-death penalty, but her effort was kept out by McFerran. Pinder had the chance to put Ireland into the World Cup final, and she coolly advanced on Ruiz, spotted a gap and slotted the ball through the ‘keepers legs to spark wild Irish celebrations.