Ireland’s men have been handed a tough draw in the Olympic Games group stages, facing four current world level title holders in Pool B for Rio 2016.
They have been placed in a group with reigning champions Germany – currently world number three – European winners the Netherlands (second), Pan-American champions Argentina (six) and Asian Cup holders India (seven). Canada (14) complete the six-team group from which Ireland must finish in the top two in order to contest for the medal places.Craig Fulton’s side are the tenth rated side in the competition but will certainly target the games against the Canadians – whom they beat comfortably in February – and India as must-win ties and then take their chances of an upset against the big three.
Australia (one), Great Britain (four), Belgium (five), New Zealand (eight), Spain (11) and Brazil (32) make up Pool A.
The draw was finalised this week in the wake of SASCOC’s, South Africa’s Olympic Committee, decision to reject an invitation, as African champions, to the Games.
They did not believe that winning the continental competition was a strong enough indicator of ability to be able to compete in Rio. They also refused an invite for the nation’s women’s hockey and rugby sevens teams.
As a result, New Zealand were the grateful recipients of the last available Olympic place as the next best placed side on the World League list. They are in a unique position as a side who have lost three direct matches to qualify for Rio in the past 12 months – twice at the World League in Argentina and then again in the Oceania Cup – but have received this reprieve.
Speaking about the draw, coach Fulton said: “There has obviously been a lot of speculation about whether South Africa or New Zealand would take the last pool spot in the men’s tournament. Now that the Olympic pools have been decided we are obviously under no illusions of how tough the Olympic tournament is and the fact that we’re in a tough group.
“It doesn’t matter what group we’re in, we will be focusing solely on improving as individuals and as a squad and team come Rio. Our first training camp is in early January in South Africa and we’re looking forward to starting 2016 with a tough but enjoyable tour.”
The full match schedule for all the pool games and play-off stages will be confirmed later in February.