Alexander Cox’s side require a draw to advance through to the Men’s Hockey World Cup play-offs.
AND SO IT has come down to this, rather inevitably in the end.
Ireland have done what they could have hoped for pre-tournament and by keeping their World Cup campaign alive, head into the final pool game with their destiny in their own hands.
Even still, Alexander Cox’s side are walking a precarious tightrope, with little margin for error.
A draw against England this afternoon at the Kalinga Stadium [1.30pm, BT Sport] would assure them of a place in the crossover matches and a shot at a historic quarter-final berth. But anything less and they’re heading home.
England, on the other hand, require all three points to advance through from Pool B at Ireland’s expense.
It’s all to play for, making this showdown between two teams that know each other inside out a high-stakes encounter neither can afford to lose.
The sides are level on points heading into round three of action, but Ireland’s superior goal difference sees them go into the do-or-die game in third position in the pool, behind already-qualified Australia and surprise package China.
After Tuesday’s frustrating 1-1 stalemate with the Chinese, a game in which Ireland dominated in every facet save for the scoreboard, the Green Machine’s wait for a first World Cup win since 1978 goes on.
Indeed a first victory of the campaign looked a mere formality against the 17th-ranked Asian outfit, as Ireland bossed the contest but a lack of clinical finishing cost Cox’s side dearly, meaning their World Cup hopes go down to the wire.
The positive was that Ireland created openings, and they know if they can do the same against England later and produce a better strike-rate in front of goal, their defensive organisation will give them a good chance of earning the result required.
In Shane O’Donoghue and Alan Sothern, Ireland have two attacking live wires with an eye for goal, the former needing just one more to break the Irish goalscoring record, while Sothern was on the mark with a brilliant finish against China.
The energy and industry of Kirk Shimmins and Sean Murray, coupled with the tireless work of Eugene Magee in the forward line, will be key in the heat of battle against seventh-ranked England in Bhubaneswar.
At the back, Ireland foiled the advances of Australia for long periods in the opening game, and captain David Harte will require a big game between the posts, as will the likes of Conor Harte, Paul Gleghorne and Jonny Bell, all of whom have enjoyed good tournaments so far.
Gleghorne will not for the first time come up against his brother, Mark, who played with Ireland until 2008 before declaring for England, while David Ames won 64 caps for Ireland before switching in 2013.
It will be the third meeting of the near neighbours in recent weeks, with Cox’s Ireland narrowly edging two warm-up games at the tri-nations tournament in Spain last month.
“The number one goal before the start of the tournament was to reach the quarter-final and that hasn’t changed,” Sothern said.
“We came out against China to win and if you look at the stats, we edged the game but didn’t make it count. The group is tight and it’s coming down to the last game. We will fire on Friday.
“We have a great, friendly rivalry with England and no one will be holding back. It’s a World Cup and both sides will be out to win to put themselves into the crossover games.”
O’Donoghue added: “There can be no motivation against England, it’s always there. We have to go into the game with plenty of belief which we always do.”
Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview a big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.
Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud
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