Ireland began their Amputee Football World Cup campaign with a 3-1 defeat to host nation Mexico in front of a packed stadium in San Juan de los Lagos on Saturday night. This was the opening match of the tournament and one in which both sides would have fancied their chances but Ireland were dealt a heavy blow before a football was even kicked with influential midfielder Kevan O'Rourke ruled out of the game due to illness.
Following a decent amount of Irish possession in the opening few minutes the remainder of the half belonged to the Mexicans and they produced some lovely pieces of individual skill, as well as, some excellent link up play. With the Mexicans on top Ireland needed to defend resiliently and it took a bit off luck for Mexico to break the deadlock halfway through the half. A Mexican forward broke through the centre of the Irish defence and following a save from goalkeeper James Conroy the ball ricocheted off retreating midfielder Garry Hoey and into an empty net. 1-0 to the hosts.
The game continued in the same fashion and Stuart McEvoy and Simon Baker were working tirelessly at the back to stem the Mexican flow in front of a jubilant crowd. Ireland did produce a few nice moments in attack and an equaliser certainly wasn't out of the question but in stoppage time at the end of the half the Mexicans doubled their lead. Having successfully defended an Irish corner the Mexicans countered to expose a stretched Irish defence. The end of this counter attack saw a ball played across the field from left to right and a cracking drive into the bottom corner from the oncoming forward. 2-0 to the hosts.
Ireland came out fighting in the second half and the much experienced Christy McElligott along with James Boyle and Stuart McEvoy began to have a bit more influence on the game. 10 minutes in it was Ireland's turn to have a bit of luck. James Boyle picked up the ball in the centre of midfield and ran straight at the Mexicans showing an exceptional turn of pace. With the Mexicans in trouble at the back confusion ensued and one of them lunged desperately at Boyle only to knock the ball past the Mexican keeper and into the net. 2-1 and game on.
Unfortunately, that was as close as Ireland got as 5 minutes later the Mexicans restored their 2 goal lead. Another long range effort produced a great save from Conroy down to his right but he could do nothing about the Mexican centre forward who was well placed to finish the rebound. 3-1 to Mexico.
Although there were to be no more goals both sides still produced chances and in one of the moves of the night, youngster Neil Hoey was very unlucky to see his excellent long range shot sail narrowly over the crossbar. While defeat in the opening game was not what the Irish wanted or expected they are still very much in contention to progress to the knockout stages. The character shown in the second half wasn't the only positive from an Irish point of view. Their was an international debut for Bohemians FC player Stefan Balog as well as World Cup debuts for McEvoy, McElligott, Neil Hoey, Éanna Durham and Ruairi Murphy. Boyle showed glimpses of the power and pace he possesses and is sure to have a big say in the outcome of Group A. Ireland will rest on Sunday and will start to turn their attention to England who they play on Monday evening.