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How Spain gave Ireland's hockey girls a major boost ahead of World Cup quarter-final

 

By John Flack ·

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No worries: Ulster and Irish goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran (right) doesn't fear a shoot-out if tonight's game against India ends all square

Ireland have just been handed a massive incentive to reach the World Cup semi-finals after underdogs Spain knocked out the fancied Germans in London last night.

That means that if Graham Shaw's girls can beat India in their quarter-final this evening (6pm), they would end up facing Spain for a place in the decider - and the Spanish are ranked just five places above the Irish on the world ladder.

Shaw, though, insists it's one game at a time and has been preparing his players - who were ranked 15th in the 16-nation series - to face India for the second time in the tournament, having beaten them 1-0 in the pool stages.

For the first time in their wonderful World Cup adventure, the Irish could face a nerve-jangling shoot-out tonight - if the scores are level after the regulation 60 minutes, the outcome will be determined by a penalty decider.

Naturally, Ireland would prefer to win in normal time but, should it go down to the wire, Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran says she will look forward to the challenge, having proved her ability in the past in such situations.

She helped Ireland win the penultimate stage of Olympic qualifying at the World League 2 tournament in 2015 via a shoot-out having also made crucial penalty saves when Pegasus lifted the Irish Hockey League title a year earlier.

The 22-year-old from Larne has been one of the most impressive players in London with some breathtaking stops that were instrumental in helping Ireland qualify for the last eight by topping their pool with wins over USA and tonight's opponents before she was beaten by a wicked deflection in the 1-0 loss to England.

If tonight's game goes the distance, the shoot-out - similar to the system used in ice hockey - will see the attacker getting a chance to run with the ball in a one-on-one situation against the keeper from the 23 metre line. When the whistle is blown, both can move and the attacker has eight seconds to attempt to score.

Although Ireland would obviously like to avoid such a scenario, they have been preparing for the possibility and practised penalties at yesterday's lunchtime training session.

McFerran, now playing for University of Louisville, said: "Shoot-outs are something I enjoy and there's more to it than just running out and trying to take the ball.

"I love being able to try and play mind games with the attacker in those situations, which then challenges me as a goalkeeper to show what I am capable of doing.

"Last season in the USA, I ended up having three shoot-outs at the end of games as matches there have to be played to a finish and that's been handy for me as I get to keep practising them, facing different styles each time."

Despite McFerran's confidence when it comes to penalty deciders, skipper Katie Mullan would understandably prefer to beat India over 60 minutes and repeat their 1-0 pool win over the Asians.

And she is quietly confident that they can do just that against a side ranked 10th in the world, six places higher than the Green Army.

McFerran added: "The tournament so far has been beyond all of our wildest expectations, for us it has been about enjoying every moment, which we have, and that has come across in the way we are playing on the pitch.

"We had goals coming into the tournament, taking it one game at a time, ensuring that we put in the performances that we knew we were capable of, so nothing has changed in that regard by making the quarter-final.

"It's about enjoying the moment and putting in a performance that we know we can achieve once again," McFerran added.

McFerran won the player of the match award in the opening win over USA and was narrowly pipped for the individual accolades in the subsequent victory over India and the defeat to England.

She has been happy with her form but insists Ireland's displays to date have been a collective effort.

She added: "I feel I've put in solid performances so far, growing into each game more and more, but the entire squad has been magnificent."

As well as Spain, Australia qualified for the semi-finals after a 4-3 shoot-out win over Argentina following a scoreless draw last night.

As well as Spain, Australia qualified for the semi-finals after a 4-3 shoot-out win over Argentina following a scoreless draw last night.

They now await the winners of tonight's other last-eight tie between hosts England and pre-tournament favourites Netherlands (8.15pm) in the other side of the draw.

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No worries: Ulster and Irish goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran (right) doesn't fear a shoot-out if tonight's game against India ends all square