Rio Olympics in touching distance as Ireland stun Pakistan

Ireland 1 Pakistan 0: Alan Sothern’s 46th-minute goal moved Ireland within touching distance of Olympic qualification as they saw off Pakistan 1-0 yesterday in Antwerp.

Rio Olympics in touching distance as Ireland stun Pakistan

An incredible result, Ireland had never previously beaten the Asian side in 10 prior meetings, formally denying them a place at the Olympics for the first time since the country’s formation.

In a World League Round 3 tournament of brave performances producing minimal outcomes, Craig Fulton’s side got the little rubs of the green to record a famous win.

It puts them through to Sunday’s fifth place play-off against Malaysia where a win would all but assure Ireland a first ever qualification for the Olympic Games in 2016.

Sixth place, meanwhile, would give Ireland an outside chance of qualifying, though they would be in limbo until October before finding out their fate.

Pakistan, ranked 10th and four places above Ireland, had the best of the first half hour yesterday but, with Paul Glegorne and Jonathan Bell superb in central defence, they only created half chances.

For coach Fulton, he admitted his side “took a while to settle down” but hung tough before putting together a cohesive and composed second phase.

“Half-time was really good for us. It got us back on track and we started to play,” he said.

Play they did, creating a trio of strong openings. Stephen Dowds whipped the first over the bar, Ronan Gormley drew a full-length save from Imran Butt between the posts.

It built up to the crescendo that was Sothern’s corner goal, a cleverly worked switch through Shane O’Donoghue’s legs which he fired through the offset Butt’s legs.

That the goal came following a rare successful Irish video referral added to Fulton’s satisfaction. The side has been on the wrong end of some raw decisions from the video umpire earlier in the campaign.

“There’s 15 cameras here and the only thing we can’t rely on is human error. You just hope you get the right decision,” Fulton said, after that decision went his way.

Ireland also had a nervous final few seconds as David Harte pulled off a wonder save from Umar Bhutta. Pakistan tried in vain to review the build-up to the save but it was waved away first by the animated on-field umpire Nathan Stagno and then by Coen van Bunge in the box.

Having conceded late on against Australia and Belgium — both sides ranked in the world’s top five — Fulton was equally pleased with how his side closed out the tie.

“This group is mentally very strong; we’ve had a lot of close games, learning lessons on how to win games.

“It was a hairy last 30 seconds but we have learned a lot of lessons in the last phases of other games and hopefully we have turned a corner in trying to win games in those late times.

“This game was never going be a nine-goal thriller. It was going to be tight, we had to keep our plan together and not get excited.”

Now, attention shifts quickly to Sunday when Ireland will meet Malaysia. It is a quick turnaround but the coach says his side will have little problem refocusing after the elation of beating Pakistan.

“We’re only halfway there. Refocusing should be pretty easy. We haven’t won anything yet so we will get straight back to basics, analyse the game and get back in the zone,” said Fulton.

They will meet Malaysia on tomorrow at 12pm (Irish time), hoping to gain some revenge for their 4-2 group phase defeat to the world number 12 side.

IRELAND:

D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, R Gormley, A Sothern, S Dowds, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, M Darling, K Good, P Gleghorne.

Subs:

M Watt, C Cargo, P Caruth, K Shimmins, D Carlisle.

PAKISTAN:

I Butt, M Irfan, M Imran, M Toseeq, M Waqas, M U Bhutta, R Mehmood, S Rasool, A Shan, M Rizwan Jr.

Subs:

A S Butt, M Abbas, S Shah, M Rizwan Sr, F Ahmed, M Yaqoob, M Ali.

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