Women's Hockey World Cup: Ireland into final with shootout win over Spain
|2018 Hockey Women's World Cup|
|Venue: Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London Dates: 21 July-5 August|
|Coverage: Commentary on Ireland & England games on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and online; score updates on BBC Sport website|
Tournament minnows Ireland reached the World Cup final with a sudden-death shootout win over Spain.
Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was once again the Green Army hero with three vital saves, before Gillian Pinder scored the final effort for a 3-2 win.
The tie finished 1-1 in normal time after Anna O'Flanagan's early goal was cancelled out by Alicia Magaz for the Red Sticks.
Ireland will play defending champions Netherlands in Sunday's final.
The seven-time winners beat Australia 3-1 in a shootout after the second semi-final ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ireland's dramatic shootout was a repeat of their quarter-final victory over India, and extended their remarkable journey through a tournament they went into as the second lowest-ranked team.
A tension-filled semi-final went all the way to a shootout after Spain deservedly fought back, but McFerran's brilliant saves paved the way for Pinder to score the winner.
From no-hopers to finalists
No other Irish hockey team has scaled the same heights this side has achieved at this tournament - their first World Cup appearance in 16 years.
When head coach Graham Shaw took charge three years ago, his team was at a low ebb after a shootout defeat by China in their World League 3 quarter-final, but the former Ireland international has overseen an astonishing transformation.
He has inspired a startling degree of commitment from his largely amateur playing squad, with players such as Nikki Evans, Chloe Watkins and O'Flanagan putting their full-time jobs on hold to dedicate themselves to playing at the highest level.
Ireland's rollercoaster ride through the competition is all the more surprising given the disparity in funding for the team in comparison to the budgets of the USA, the Netherlands or hosts England.
Shaw's team have trailed just once so far, when they conceded in the closing stages of their final group match against England - their success built on the excellence of McFerran and a superb team spirit.
Dream start for Green Army
Competing in their first World Cup semi-final, Ireland made a dream start by taking the lead in the third minute.
In an almost identical move to the one that led to the only goal of their Pool B win against India, Shirley McKay's sweep from the first penalty corner of the match was cleverly deflected by O'Flanagan through the legs of goalkeeper Maria Ruiz.
O'Flanagan nearly repeated the trick in the 11th minute when she got her stick on Ali Meeke's initial effort but Ruiz produced a superb reflex save before Carola Salvatella flashed a shot wide at the other end.
Spain eventually began to find their rhythm and the Red Sticks dominated the second and third quarters as they started to spread the ball with width and pace.
Salvatella went close again when her audacious shot, with her back to goal, flew wide of the post but Ireland remained dangerous on the counter attack and Deirdre Duke's low shot forced Ruiz into a fine stop.
Spain deservedly equalised in the 39th minute when Berta Bonastre's cross from the right wing found Magaz in space and she had time to pick her spot past the onrushing McFerran.
Both teams had chances to score in the final quarter. Magaz flashed a shot over the Ireland crossbar before the Green Army won a late penalty corner, via video referral, but Zoe Wilson's shot was scrambled away.
McFerran the shootout star
McFerran's performance in the quarter-final shootout against India gave Ireland renewed confidence, which was strengthened when Pinder fired them into an early lead.
The Larne goalkeeper forced a miss by Begona Garcia before she saved from Beatriz Perez and Carlota Petchame either side of a composed finish by Spanish captain Georgina Oliva.
Chloe Watkins and Lola Rieira both scored spectacular efforts to force the shootout into sudden death.
Oliva took responsibility for her side but she was brilliantly denied by McFerran, which set up Pinder for her dramatic winner.
What they said
Ireland player Gillian Pinder, speaking to BT Sport: "It feels absolutely unbelievable. I need to pinch myself and just check that it is all real. It's just unbelievable.
"It's an absolute dream come true. We've worked really really hard and been through highs and lows over the past number of years and we're just delighted now to finally get a bit of a reward.
"We started well and got an early goal, but they just threw the kitchen sink at us as. We defended really well and we were really confident going into one-v-ones, we've got one of the world's best goalkeepers."
Ireland coach Graham Shaw, speaking to BT Sport: "I didn't think this would ever happen in my lifetime, if I'm being honest. We're 16th in the world - what's going on?
"What a team, what a group of people. It just shows you that when you fight for each other and you get together, anything can happen."
Nigel Ringland, BBC Sport NI at Lee Valley
It was a tense affair throughout but Ireland didn't sit back after scoring first and tried to grab a second. However, the Spanish have had a wonderful World Cup as well and were rewarded with the equaliser.
When it went to penalties, Ireland have the tournament's best goalkeeper in Ayeisha McFerran who pulled off a vital save when she needed to, setting the stage for Gillian Pinder to keep her cool and send Ireland into the World Cup Final… and yes, this really isn't a dream.