Muller fears well founded as US turn on style

GENE MULLER’S misgivings over the format of the Champions Challenge I were confirmed in galling style as his Ireland side were dumped out of contention at the quarter-final stage by the USA at Belfield last night.

Prior to the tournament, the South African had lamented a bizarre structure which saw all eight teams advance to the quarter-finals regardless of where they finished in the group stage.

There remained a suspicion, therefore, that the big teams were keeping their powder dry until the knockout stages, a theory given more legs as pool winners Ireland and South Africa were eliminated by basement sides USA and Spain respectively.

While Ireland nonetheless had plenty to be pleased about in their group stage wins over India and Azerbaijan and a draw with Spain — all are ranked higher than the girls in green — they had no answer to the USA’s clever movement in attack yesterday.

Ireland’s outletting from defence had been problematic against the Spanish and the issue was magnified here by the Americans’ aggressive high press.

Ireland keeper Emma Gray toed an early Claire Laubach drag-flick around the post but Shannon Taylor had the US two goals to the good inside 20 minutes, benefiting from slick build-up play along the baseline from Michelle Kasold and Paige Selenski.

Ireland conceded a third 60 seconds after the restart, Katie Reinprecht pulling the ball back for Rachel Dawson to smack home, while the in-form Gray was required to smartly save a Kayla Bashore-Smedly penalty stroke to prevent a rout.

But propelled by Emma Clarke and Aine Connery, the hosts found their feet and forced two quick-fire short corners. Audrey O’Flynn’s first dragged effort was touched onto the post by American netminder Amy Tran-Swenson, but the Cork woman made no mistake second time round, rifling into the bottom corner to give Ireland a 49th-minute lifeline.

However, Ireland were left to rue two mis-trapped short corners thereafter, while Taylor saw the ball bobble over her outstretched stick from a foot out at the other end. The US closed the game out in relative comfort to advance to a semi-final meeting with Scotland tomorrow, with Spain meeting Japan in the other tie.

Ireland head into the fifth-eighth place play-offs as they again face Azerbaijan today (6pm).

IRELAND: E Gray, M Harvey, C Sargent, E Smyth, E Clarke, A Speers, S McCay, J McDonnell, J O’Halloran, S McCarthy, N Symmons.

Subs: L Jacob, A Connery, A O’Flynn, C Watkins, L Colvin.

USA: A Tran-Swensen, R Dawson, K Reinprecht, K O’Donnell, M Kasold, C Nichols, P Selenski, C Laubach, K Falgowski, K Bashore-Smedley, L Crandall.

Subs: M Gonzalez, M Vittesse, M Cesan, S Taylor, J Reinprecht.

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