Road to Rio becomes slightly clearer for Irish teams

Ireland’s road to Rio 2016 became a little clearer over the weekend with the line-up for the women’s World League round two complete while two more teams have been added to the men’s tournament.

Barring late changes, Darren Smith’s women’s team will battle it out with Chile (world number 20), Austria (26), Belarus (19), Canada (22), Czech Republic (35), Lithuania (34) and Ukraine (24) in Dublin next March.

Michelle Harvey in action for KHC Leuven Pic: Emma van Mol

Michelle Harvey in action for KHC Leuven Pic: Emma van Mol

Ireland are the top seed for the competition at 15th in the world and will have confidence going into the competition having beaten Belarus at last summer’s Europeans 3-2. They also notched a 1-0 win over Chile and 5-0 success over Canada this summer in their most recent meetings.

It follows the completion of a couple of World League round one tournaments. Canada breezed through their group with a 34-0 win over Guatemala, 22-0 against Peru before a more circumspect 6-0 win over hosts Mexico.

A week earlier, Austria and the Czechs emerged from a tournament in Hradec Kralove behind France, a side Ireland hammered several times this summer.

Based on current world rankings, it looks like Ireland would need a top two finish from the tournament in order to progress to round three from which the Olympic qualifiers will be determined.

Of Smith’s charges, Nicci Daly and Michelle Harvey have started their club season in style. Harvey missed much of this year with injury but she is back in Belgium with KHC Leuven and firing, scoring three goals and setting up a couple more in a 9-2 win over Lara. The former Pegasus player has been named their captain for the season.

Daly, meanwhile, was on the mark for the much-talked about Holcombe as they beat Bowdon Hightown 3-0 in their first game in the English Premier Division since promotion last term.

For the men’s Irish national team, they are still awaiting a final team in their World League round two competition in California in the spring.

Hosts USA (world number 28) along with Canada (16) had pre-qualified for this round and have been joined by Austria (23), Chile (26), Mexico (35) and Russia (19).

Like the women, they need a top two finish in the competition based on current world ranking calculations to reach round three. It looks a tricky group with Austria a potential banana-skin.

Featuring EHL winning trio Michael Korper, Benjamin Stanzl and Xaver Husan – all playing hockey with Harvestehuder – they have plenty of strong elements with Stanzl one of the best playmakers in European hockey.

Korper scored the winning penalty in the EHL final and he fired three goals in a 6-1 win over Italy that sealed their progression from round one, winning a tournament with Italy and Portugal to make it through.

Chile and Mexico emerged from a Pan-American pool that also featured Brazil and Guatemala over the weekend. Russia had already made it through from a tournament in Croatia in July.

The final side in their competition is likely to be one of Jamaica, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Venezuela or a Kwan Browne-inspired Trinidad and Tobago.

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