Women’s EuroHockey Championship Pool A
Wednesday: Ireland v Spain, 11.30am (Irish time, Live on RTE 2)
Chloe Watkins said the make-up of Ireland’s group meant she always “kind of felt it was going to come down to the final pool game against Spain” as the Green Army take on their most frequent recent rival.
The two sides’ recent history has often been intertwined with Ireland edging out the Spanish in the 2018 World Cup semi-final in a shoot-out.
In so doing, they gained more than a modicum of revenge for a chastening 7-2 loss when the two sides met in the 2017 Europeans at this same Wagener Stadium venue where they will meet on Wednesday at 11.30am (Irish time).
Outside of those key meetings, Spain is Ireland’s most frequent haunt for training camps with trips to Valencia, Jaen, Malaga and Granada in recent times.
In January, Ireland edged a five-game, uncapped series with two wins and two draws to their credit but all with precious little between the sides.
Like Ireland, they have established themselves in the world’s top ten; they sit seventh, Ireland ranked eighth.
“The Spanish are the old enemy for us; they have been on a similar journey as ourselves over the years,” Watkins added.
“They are an incredibly good team and it will be a really tough challenge. Again, it will be very different to Scotland and the Dutch. They are very skillful and it will take a lot of hard work to break them down but I think if we just do our homework and focus, we’ve had good results against them in the past. But it will take a big effort, make no doubt about it.”
Her battle in the central exchanges with Gigi Oliva will be a pivotal one; Watkins has been lining out against the Spanish playmaker for the guts of 15 years since Under-16 level in a rivalry that has also traversed club contests in Spain and the Netherlands.
The age and cap profiles are also remarkably similar with many players at the apex of their careers, late 20s and closing in on the 200 cap mark. Ireland have 13 centurions, Spain have 12.
Victory for Ireland will bring a 2022 World Cup ticket along with assured entry to the top tier of the 2023 European Championships.
A draw, though, will not do as the Spanish nicked a consolation four minutes from full time against the Dutch in a 7-1 defeat which may prove vital; it leaves them ahead of Ireland on goal difference thanks to their earlier 4-1 defeat of Scotland.
For Spanish coach Adrian Lock – now in his ninth year as head coach – he says he does not expect the late goal to have too much of a material impact despite giving his side an extra buffer.
“That last goal doesn’t change too much other than it can be a draw but our mindset for the game doesn’t really change and we go to try and win it.
“We know Ireland pretty well, we know them individually like they know us. They are a team who has come a long way in the last few years in a similar way in which we have. It will be tough and the small details will tell in the scoreline.”