Ireland, who had just one point from their labours here before yesterday's encounter, had to win against the Japanese to keep alive any hopes of making next year's finals in the Netherlands. They started badly, letting in two goals in the opening 14 minutes and looking ragged.
Towards the end of the first half they won a string of penalty corners but were unable to breach the Japanese defences, with Japan's goalkeeper Nima Miyazaki quite outstanding in covering her line.
Kelleher, who had turned in moderate efforts at the tournament until this game, led Ireland's recovery eight minutes into the second half with a strong run down the right. The Slough midfielder found Lynsey McVicker inside to strike the first blow into the back of the net.
Spurred on by a large band of supporters, the Irish again drove forward, though their endeavours received a setback with the temporary suspension of Mary Logue. Reduced to 10 players, they forced a penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Arlene Thompson scored the equaliser.
At a penalty corner with just seven minutes remaining, the ball was switched by Thompson to Kelleher, who drove in the winning goal. There was still time for Japan's captain Sahori Miyazaki to hit the crossbar at the other end, but the Irish survived. Their coach Terry Gregg was ecstatic. "You can't believe what this result means to me," he said.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS (Harare): Pool A: Ireland 3 Japan 2. Final Pool A standings: 1 South Africa (P5, Pts13) 2 India (5-9); 3 England (5-9); 4 Ireland (5-4); 5 Japan (5-4); 6 Canada (5-2). Pool B: Spain 4 Zimbabwe 0.Reuse content