Irish in tears as shootout agony puts road to Rio in real jeopardy
Ireland 1 China 1 (China win 4-3 in penalty shootout)
Heartbroken Ireland went within a whisker of nailing down automatic Olympic qualification in Valencia yesterday only to lose their Women's Hockey World League quarter-final against China in a nail-biting shoot-out.
Captain Megan Frazer hit the post in the nerve-jangling tie-breaker before her opposite number Liang Meiyu eventually decided the issue in favour of the side ranked seventh in the world.
The Green Machine now faces a re-match with the United States - the side they beat earlier in the week - tomorrow in a last ditch attempt to earn their place at next year's Games in Rio.
The Irish got the game itself off on the wrong foot as Zhang Xiaoxue made the most of an overhead pass which bamboozled the two defenders under its flight path to beat goalie Emma Gray.
However, Ireland rallied strongly and, though failing to extract any return from a dozen penalty corners, equalised through Chloe Watkins on 42 minutes after some neat interplay with Kate Dillon.
Coach Darren Smith called in shoot-out specialist Ayesha McFerran to replace Emma Gray between the posts and the young Pegasus net-minder pulled off three wonderful saves.
However, it was not sufficient as efforts in the one-on-one series from Emma Smyth and Nikki Evans were snuffed out by Chinese goalie Li Dongxiao.
As the shoot-out moved into sudden death, luckless Frazer was barely an inch off target when she found the woodwork and then Anna O'Flanagan shunted the ball weakly wide to allow Liang to administer the coup de grace and leave the Irish in tears.
Ireland - E Gray, Y O'Byrne, C Sargent, E Smyth, N Evans, S McCay, M Frazer, E Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O'Flanagan. Subs: K Mullan, G Pinder, A Connery, C Watkins, K Dillon, A Meeke, A McFerran.