Niamh Carey’s incredible start to her international career continued as her 48th minute goal earned Ireland a 3-2 win over Belarus in Pisa, putting them within one win of the 2022 World Cup.
t was a remarkable piece of work as she was knocked over by Belarus goalkeeper Maryna Navitskaya but still managed to roll over on the ground and scoop the ball into the backboard.
Earlier, Ireland had made a brilliant start with Lena Tice and Anna O’Flanagan putting them 2-0 up inside four minutes only for Belarus to fight back with Sviatlana Bahushevich and Ryta Batura levelling things.
But Ireland kept their nerve with skipper Katie Mullan picking out Carey with a beautiful line into the circle from which Carey settled the contest.
“It certainly wasn’t the way we wanted the game to go, especially when we went 2-0 up so early,” was coach Sean Dancer’s assessment.
“Credit to Belarus who got back into it and had some nice plays. Their coach [Herman Kruis] has certainly been doing some good stuff with them and it turned into a hard fought match but, to our credit, the girls kept fighting and won it which is the main aim.”
“It’s still do or die! Final tomorrow but we always knew it was going to be the case. We are up for the challenge and are under no illusion whether we play Scotland or Wales [at 3pm Irish time]. We need to bring it and probably bring a little bit more than we did today!”
The Green Army could scarcely have started better with Michelle Carey burning up the middle to win a first minute penalty corner. Lena Tice powered home from the top with an accurate slap for 1-0.
The speed shown by Carey was a sign of things to come as the direct running of her, twin sister Niamh and Sarah Hawkshaw wreaked havoc throughout the tie.
In the fourth minute, Anna O’Flanagan was then credited with the final touch from a real melée, created by Niamh Carey’s charge and shot which spun up and behind the goalkeeper Maryna Navitskaya. Naomi Carroll had the first bite and O’Flanagan followed up to make extra sure.
But any notion Belarus would be a beaten docket was quickly dispelled as Sviatlana Bahushevich deftly flicked in from close range in just the fifth minute.
At that stage, it looked set to be a goalfest with the game wide open with Ireland looking to exploit their speed at every opportunity to stretch the game.
For Dancer, the pace of Sarah Hawkshaw, Sarah Torrans and the Carey twins was a key factor but, allied to the way Belarus approached the tie, it made for a helter-skelter fixture.
“One of our strengths is our speed and skill and we certainly want to bring that as much as possible. The way Belarus set up their press and structure allowed the game to become quite open. In the end, it probably became too open,” he said.
Indeed, it was a surprise the tie made it through the second and third quarters without further action on the scoreboard. Niamh Carey’s goalbound effort was hooked off the line by a back-pedaling defender while a Mullan crack at goal pinged the post.
The Green Army could not make further use of their half-dozen penalty corners and Sarah Torrans agonisingly missing out from a Hawkshaw cross.
While they were creating the better chances, Belarus always looked like they were in the hunt, forcing some big interventions from Hannah McLoughlin and Róisín Upton.
And so it proved in the closing quarter from the Belarussians first set of corners, Ryta Batura eventually scrambling home after a couple of deflections.
But no sooner were they level than Ireland replied with Mullan’s rangy pass and Carey’s brilliant finish. It made it two goals in two capped international matches for the current UCD student, raised at Railway Union, with a memorable finish.
And Coach Dancer has been thrilled by her all-round game this week: “It’s a great conversion rate off the bat, two from two!
“The impressive thing she brings is her engine, her speed and endurance make it really tough for people to keep up with her. She got some really nice touches in at times when we needed them.”
It puts Ireland through to the final of this tournament where the World Cup ticket will ultimately be decided with Scotland or Wales the opposition.
Women’s World Cup qualifier
Ireland 3 (L Tice, A O’Flanagan, N Carey) Belarus 2 (S Bahushevich, R Batura)
Ireland: A McFerran, M Carey, R Upton, K Mullan, L Tice, H McLoughlin, C Watkins, S Torrans, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan, N Carey. Subs: E Getty, Z Malseed, N Carroll, D Duke, E Curran, S McAuley, L Murphy.
Belarus: M Navitskaya, I Siamionava, H Zhylevich, U Kasabutskaya, D Belavusava, R Batura, Y Yubko, S Bahushevich, K Papkova, M Nikitsina, V Lapitskaya. Subs: N Shtsin, K Mihunova, K Kutai, D Hanets, A Sys, K Zhuk, T Liavonava.
Umpires: H Harrison (Eng), C Martin-Schmets (Bel).