Anna O’Flanagan hits crucial winner as Ireland get vital win over Belgium

Anna O’Flanagan hits crucial winner as Ireland get vital win over Belgium

Belgium 1 - 2 Ireland

Anna O’Flanagan snatched a crucial winner for Ireland with just over a minute to go to see her side move within touching distance of safety in the top tier of European hockey.

She got the vital touch from Shirley McCay’s remarkable cross with time running out to nick a 2-1 win over Belgium – finalists in 2017 – in Antwerp.

It lifts Ireland to six points in the relegation pool and, barring a loss to Russia on Sunday and a 10-goal swing on goal difference, Sean Dancer’s side will be safe for 2021.

Ambition, though, is higher and the goal now is to equal Ireland’s best ever finish in the competition in fifth with a draw or better.

After a shaky opening, Dancer reverted to a high press and it paid instant dividends. Diminutive defender Beth Barr continued her hot streak in front of goal with an 11th minute tap in from McCay’s powerful cross for 1-0.

An over-turned penalty stroke decision denied Ireland a chance to double the lead in the first half as they could not force home their advantage from general play.

It allowed Belgium bounce back in the third quarter and Ambre Ballenghien duly touched in an Alix Gerniers’ cross with 16 minutes to go.

When Nikki Evans was sent to the sin-bin, things looked even tougher but Ireland kept rolling and O’Flanagan nabbed her winner at the death.

On the men’s side, today’s date with Wales looks set to be a stressful affair. Ireland could be relegated by the time they take the field in Antwerp should England and Scotland draw the first game of the day.

If still in the game, Ireland will need to get a win to save their bacon.

Belgium: A D’Hooghe, S Limauge, J Vandermeiren, E Puvrez, L Versavel, B Nelen, S Vanden Borre, P Leclef, L Hillewaert, J Boon, A Ballenghien

Subs: A Raye, A Fobe, A Gerniers, A-S Weyns, M Struijk, E Picard

Ireland: A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, B Barr, C Watkins, L Colvin, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke

Subs: R Upton, G Pinder, N Daly, H Matthews, S Hawkshaw, A Meeke, L Murphy

Belfius EuroHockey Championships (Irish time; Wilrijkse Plein, Antwerp)

Saturday, August 23: Ireland (men) v Wales, 2.45pm

Sunday, August 24: Ireland (women) v Russia, 8am

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