Ireland’s first match of the tournament takes place on July 21st at 6pm against the USA, a traditionally physical side and renowned for their fitness in world hockey. Jackie Briggs in the US goal has been in fine form over the last 12 months, playing a crucial role at World League in Johannesburg as she helped her side to victory in penalty shootouts over both England and Germany. Equally Melissa Gonzalez is always one to watch for America, she took over the captaincy when Lauren Crandall retired and is a constant threat with her power and pace. But Ayeisha McFerran in the Irish goal is equally proficient when it comes to shoot-outs and the experience of Shirley McCay, Ireland’s most capped female athlete, combined with the cool head of Zoe Wilson will be used to the threat the Americans pose, as the sides meet almost annually for a match series.
India come next, on Thursday July 26th at 2pm, and offer a different challenge entirely. The sides met in a crucial 7th/8th playoff tie at World League in Johannesburg last summer with the Green Army coming from a goal down to claim a 2-1 victory thanks to a stunning goal from Lizzie Colvin. But India have won the Asia Cup since then, beating higher ranked China in the final, and have had a couple of different coaches with Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne returning to the helm of the women’s squad following a period with the men’s team. They place a big emphasis on Savita in goal and their captain Rani for some creativity but the Green Army may well have the upper hand when it comes to skill and speed courtesy of Nicci Daly and Gillian Pinder.
Hosts England are the final Pool B opponent for Ireland on Sunday July 29th at 7pm. Much can be made of the Olympic gold medallists and they retain a large portion of that history making team from Rio. But it was just 12 months ago that saw England snatch a victory over Ireland by only a single goal and they will be under pressure as hosts, having not made it to the European final as expected last August. Maddie Hinch is rightly the goalie of the moment and she will be tough to get past but the ever-threatening Anna O’Flanagan has beaten her before and combining her eye for goal with the determination of Nikki Evans will certainly test the English defence. It will be crucial for the Irish midfield, particularly utilising the experience of Chloe Watkins, to get the ball into the circle for the forwards. Katie Mullan, captaining the side, is adept at picking up the ball and bulldozing her way into dangerous areas and if penalty corners come then the Green Army are blessed with two talented drag flickers in the forms of Roisin Upton and Megan Frazer.
The winners of each pool progress straight through to the quarterfinal and the bottom placed team goes home. The second placed team in Pool B will play off against the third placed team in Pool A, and the third placed team in Pool B will play against the second placed team in Pool A.
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