By The Hockey Paper
And then there were two. Well, four in all for the World Cup semi-finals. But while Holland and Australia march on, it’s the teams in the lower half of the draw who have set the tournament alight.
Gone are England, the hosts, and Germany. Instead, we have Ireland and Spain and it’s set to be a match of yesteryear.
Fielding players who are architects, lawyers, doctors, physios and engineers, it is the ultimate amateur match-up gunning for a date with destiny in Sunday’s final.
Ireland’s uttterly memorable tournament rolls on.
Chloe Watkins, who slotted home the winner in the shoot-out over India, said: “This whole week has gone amazing but it hasn’t been down to the last few weeks or months.
“It is years and years of hard work. It’s so great to get the rewards on a world stage, to be involved in a World Cup and to show everyone what we can do.”
Then there’s Megan Frazer. Returning after months out with knee complications, she has come into her own as Ireland have progressed. A colossus in midfield on Thursday, it’s almost as if Ireland have shipped in their trump card.
“From our results over the last few years and then with my injury and rehab, it is a dream come true,” she said. “You can’t help but think good things come to those who work hard and keep going.
WORLD CUP SEMI FINALISTS!!! There are no words ???????????? pic.twitter.com/fCJJWubvQ3
— Green Army (@IreWomenHockey) August 2, 2018
And what about Ali Meeke? An outrageous nutmeg in the shoot-out – only her second goal in 110 matches – and she’s ready for more history.
“Maybe I have opened the floodgates, fingers crossed! Four years ago, I was in the stand watching the girls play. To say this is a dream come true is an understatement. I had a couple of knockbacks along the way but this is the highlight of everything.”
It continues. Elena Tice, the youngest Irish player at 20, is far from overawed. The English-born player understands the Irish travails over the years. The 550 Euro levy the players had to stump up to play in tournaments. The seven counties in Ireland with no hockey pitches. The amateur status of the side. But the team unity which has propelled this towards the upper echelons of the rankings.
“We try to go into every game without fear,” she said. “We are the under dog every time but we want to push on, become a top 10 team and expect to win.”
And all the while, Spain are writing their own chapter. Former Olympic champions, they are now a team on the rise, with an Englishman, Adrian Lock, at the helm
Imagine having the bottle to put it through the keeper's legs in a World Cup shoot-out!
— BT Sport (@btsport) August 2, 2018
“We’ve been together since 2013 and a lot of them I’ve been with for 10 years, with the under-21 squad.
“We’ve grown together as a team. I always thought it was in the offing to get this far. We sat down in 2013 as a team and they decided as a team to qualify for the Olympics.
“We have got better in our mindset and training and that’s what pays off in the big games. We are a step closer. We’re in with a shout.”
We all know about the Dutch in this tournament. Australia, meanwhile, look a formidable unit – especially at the back – and will pose a second test for Holland after a group stage romp.
But Ireland v Spain is where the story is.
“When you get an opportunity like this, you have to grab it with both hands,” added Watkins. “We’ve been coming out with smiles on our faces but if anybody was to underestimate us, they would be foolish.” Game on.
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