IRELAND 1:0 JAPAN
Valencia, January 17: Both Ireland Men and Ireland Women progress to the semi finals of the Olympic Qualifiers as Ireland Men beat Japan in their last pool game here in Valencia this evening.
Both sides in this men’s encounter entered their final pool match having won one and lost one of their opening two games. Ireland had the advantage of a plus 2 goal difference meaning that a draw would be enough to reach second place in Pool A and that coveted semi-final slot. Japan simply had to win to get past Ireland and points gained as they had a minus 4 deficit goal difference entering game three.
For Ireland, who suffered the heartbreak of a playoff elimination back in Vancouver in 2019,there was probably even more motivation after the disappointment of losing their shoot out to Canada five years ago. Japan appeared to be determined to try and counter anything Ireland threw at them and in the first half it was pretty much even stephens in terms of possession but both sides seemed to have the crucial intervention to prevent anything concrete being created by their opponents in terms of goalscoring opportunities. Indeed, when the end of the first quarter arrived it was difficult to recall a single clear-cut chance for Ireland or Japan.
The second quarter was better from both sides in terms of attacking opportunities and the first real chances of the game happened early on in the quarter. Ireland had enjoyed slightly the better of the chances and were rewarded midway through the quarter. Ireland took the lead in the 21st minute from a penalty corner Shane O’Donoghue’s shot toward goal was turned in at the post by Luke Madeley to give the Green Army a 1-0 lead. The umpire referred the goal to the video umpire but the video umpire saw no reason for the goal not to stand and the goal was awarded.
Japan came back at Ireland but were thwarted at times by David Harte in the Irish goal and at other times by Irish defending. Daragh Walsh did some great covering on one occasion intercepting a Japanese pass down near the corner at the Irish end and immediately launching a counter attack to relieve some pressure. It was still1-0 at half -time.
The Japanese were dominant in quarter three and forced five penalty corners during the quarter. The closest they came to scoring was two shots which sailed over the bar. And every so often Ireland would break out of defence and cause some serious back pedaling by their opposition. Daragh Walsh cut inside the D ran along the baseline and before he could shoot properly Yoshikawa the Japanese keeper made a fine save in the 54th minute. Japan went for the last ultimate option when withdrawing goalkeeper Yoshikawa in favour of an extra attacker with five minutes remaining. While they had the lion’s share of the possession, including a few penalty corners, they were never able to carve out the chance that would have gotten the goal. Having several shots on goal over the length of the match including two which sailed over the bar. The hockey gods who had abandoned Ireland in 2019 were back on board on this occasion.
The team defended as a unit from front to back and when they did carve out a few attacks looked to have more of a cutting edge than their opponents who were the hosts last time the Olympic Games were held. The Japanese forced a number of long corners and were looking to get penalty corners. But their video referrals were deemed inconclusive by the video referee, and they kept their referrals. One occasion saw a penalty stroke awarded initially against Ireland but when it was referred to the video umpire by Ireland, he said it was not a stroke and should be downgraded to a penalty corner and Ireland should keep their referral.
John McKee broke out of defence in the closing seconds and got deep into Japanese territory just as the final hooter sounded. Shane O’Donoghue was chosen as player of the match.
After the match we spoke to Head Coach Mark Tumilty:
“Without the ball we’ve become comfortable in deep defence. Deep defence is something we have worked on. The objective was to get out of the group. We have achieved that, and we now face into a huge challenge against Spain in the Semi-final on Friday and then have another opportunity on Sunday, the nature of which (either the gold medal or bronze medal final) will depend on the result on Friday.”
Captain Sean Murray said after the match:
“It was tough in the end. At the same time, it was never going to be easy with both teams playing to make the last four. They had to win, nothing else would have been good enough for them. We had a slight cushion with our goal difference advantage knowing that if we did draw, we would also qualify.”
“We weren’t playing for a draw because going for the win was the best way to secure a place in the semi-final and we got there. Set pieces were crucial both taking them and defending against them. Both the drag flickers, runners and post men (while defending) were outstanding and at the end of the day we were more efficient when we were awarded penalty corners and when we had to defend them”.
“Ourselves and the women are both playing Spain in semi-finals in this tournament. Hopefully we get the job done on Friday and they do likewise tomorrow. Two Irish teams getting it done against Spain would be amazing.”
Shane O’Donoghue player of the match:
“We knew this was going to be a tough game against Japan. We displayed the fighting Irish spirit, at times it was backs to the wall defending but we are experienced at that aspect of the game. You also have to score when you have an opportunity to do so and then defend when you don’t have the ball. That spirit runs right through the team. Looking forward to the semi-final with Spain, both teams will be feeling the pressure. The hosts are going to have a large home support, but we will also have a large number of green jerseys in the stand cheering us on and our fans will be competing against the Spanish as to who can make the biggest noise to support their teams.”
IRELAND: David Harte, Tim Cross, Shane O’Donoghue, Lee Cole , Nicholas Page, John McKee, Sean Murray (C), Michael Robson, Daragh Walsh, Jeremy Duncan, Luke Madeley
SUBS USED: Jamie Carr (GK) (Not used) Matthew Nelson (5 mins), Kyle Marshall (8 mins), Peter McKibbin (3 mins), Jonathan Lynch (5 mins), Sam Hyland (3 mins), Ben Johnson (4 mins)
JAPAN: Takashi Yoshikawa (GK), Koji Yamasaki, Yamato Kawahara, Seren Tanaka, Kentaro Fukuda, Taiki Takade, Yuma Nagai, Raiki Fujishima, Ken Nagayoshi, Makasi Ohahsi, Kaito Tanaka
SUBS USED :- Takumi Kitagawa (GK) (Not used), Takuma Niwa (4 mins), Manubu Yamashita (5 mins), Hiro Saito (3 mins), Ryoma Ooka (4 mins), Genki Mitani (4 mins), Yusuke Kawamura (4 mins)