Gritty performance by Irish

Ireland 4, Spain 6

John Clarke's side may have been regarded as whipping boys by many of the fancied outfits in these championships, but this result will have shocked many perhaps even a few of the Irish fans who travelled here in hope rather than expectation.

Some had predicted that Ireland would be taken apart by the Spanish and for long periods it looked like they would, but the Irish never wilted and, despite being 6-2 down at one stage, they rallied well and eventually only lost by two goals. Clarke said afterwards that Spain were always going to be a measure of how good this Irish team are and, as one of the top five in the world right now, they were always going to present the youthful Irish with myriad problems. "We played really well in the second half and I think that was because so many of our players are inexperienced, it took them time to find the pace Spain play at. The defence definitely had more of an examination than any of the other players, but they did well in the second period," said Clarke.

The difficulties for the Irish were highlighted early on just over a minute into the game. Eduard Tubau collected the ball in the Irish circle after good work down the left, but the marking was not great and he had a practically a free shot.

However, Ireland lost captain and goalie Nigel Henderson after a collision with Tubau and he had to be taken from the field unconscious.

This did not unduly upset Ireland's rhythm as Wes Bateman came on as replacement and did very well in the circumstances, pulling off several excellent saves. The Irish tried to compose themselves after this early setback, and prolific striker Justin Sherriff proved to be their most effective weapon in this regard. He just missed with one chance on six minutes and then four minutes later, he brought down a high ball, turned and shot Ireland level.

However, as the half wore on, the Spanish began to dominate and three goals between the 20th and 27th minutes had Ireland on the back foot.

The score was 4-1 at the break and not surprisingly, the Irish contingent were fearful of a mauling. As their coach said afterwards, though, they upped the ante in the second period and never gave Spain as much room to show off their superior stickwork, passing and first touch. Sherriff got his second from a short corner six minutes after the break and that gave Ireland confidence, but then Spain looked to have nailed the game down when first Amat and then Tubau, (with his second) eased Spain 6-2 ahead.

But much to Clarke's delight and that of the Irish fans, Stephen Butler pulled one back from a short corner and, two minutes before the end, Mark Irwin finished off an excellent move to put more than a gloss of respectability on the final score.

The Irish face Russia next and their confidence going into that game will have been greatly boosted by what they achieved last night.

Ireland: Henderson, Black, Smyth, Lutton, Burns, Irwin, Raphael, Sherriff, Jackson, Shaw, Buttimer. Subs: Jermyn, Bateman, Butler.

Spain: Cortes, Escarre, Fabregas, Freuxa, Garza, Quemada, Amat, Tubau, Sanchez, Garza, Alborch. Subs: Sojo, Aguilar.

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