Ireland bound for Belgium after SA fall to Egypt

While the Irish women push forward their Olympic agenda at Belfield this week, Craig Fulton’s men’s team have been given another nudge forward from an unexpected source.

Fulton’s side won their World League round two tournament a week ago in San Diego to progress to round three of the competition. That phase features two tournaments of ten teams, 20 in total, from which the majority of the 12 tickets to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 will be decided.

Ireland initially looked certain to be sent to Argentina for round three of the competition based on the world rankings.

But that all changed to a much shorter, more financially affordable trip to Belgium due to a series of horror results for South Africa in their version of the round two tournament in Cape Town.

They were stunned by both rank outsiders China and Egypt over the weekend, dumping them out of the qualifying process.

With Ireland beating Canada in the tournament, they subsequently rose two places in the list of teams qualified for World League 3 to the 13th rank overall, moving them away from the trip to Buenos Aires, meaning the IHA can expect a considerably smaller bill for travel and acclimitisation.

From a playing perspective, the roster of opposition already confirmed looks slightly more manageable than the original proposition.

The tournament in Buenos Aires features Olympic champions Germany as well as the World Cup silver and bronze medalists – the Netherlands and hosts Argentina. In addition, New Zealand, Korea and Spain made up a list of six prequalified countries.

Belgium meanwhile, only had five prequalified sides rather than six but, as would be expected from an Olympic qualifying tournament, will be no pushover. It includes world champions Australia, the host nation and Great Britain along with Pakistan and India.

Ireland are the seventh ranked side in their competition, tucked in behind Malaysia, a side that Ireland have a reasonable record against in recent times but had a wildly erratic 2014, losing to Trinidad and Tobago at their nadir as three coaches swapped the hot seat. France, Poland and China are the other sides, all of whom will pose tricky challenges.

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