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Road To Rio: Ireland's Olympic Dream Isn't Over Despite Devastating Shootout Loss

Conor O'Leary
By Conor O'Leary
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The Irish people got on the bandwagon this morning, as the women's hockey team was one game away from all but securing a spot in the Olympic Games next year in Rio in their quarterfinal against China. No team from Ireland at Games since soccer and basketball at 1948 Olympics.

Unfortunately it didn't work out for Ireland after a dramatic game that ended in a sudden death shoot-out loss to the seventh-ranked Chinese team.

But that doesn't mean that Ireland's Olympic dream is over. There is still a chance for this Irish women's team to reach the Rio games next year, but they will have to rely on results, and take care of business themselves in a very complicated system.

Olympic qualification is split between the top seven ranked teams from the Women's World League semi-final tournament (Similar to the Eurovision semi-finals in format), and the five winners of the continental tournaments. Any team that wins their continental tournament doesn't count towards the seven qualifiers from the Women's World League, and thus their qualifying spot goes to the team that finished in the next place.


The main problem that complicates things is that only one of the continental tournaments has taken place - with South Korea winning the Asian Games. Unfortunately for Ireland, they are not one of the eight teams that qualified for the European Games in August of this year, so that route to Rio isn't available.


What they can do, however is end up in one of the possible 'best losers' spots. *Not technically called the best loser spot, but it's easier to understand this way.

To understand what Ireland have to do to maximise their chances of qualifying, we need to understand the strange format of the the Women's World League semi-finals. The Women's World League semi-finals is organised into two sections. The seven qualifiers for the Olympics will come from the top three in each each section, with the seventh team being the highest ranked fourth place finisher.


The fourth, fifth and sixth best finishers in both sections are all still eligible for Olympic qualifying should the teams that finish ahead of them secure qualifying through the continental tournaments. Ireland can't finish in the top four in their section after today's loss, but they will face USA on Saturday at 11.30 am, to reach the 5th/6th playoff and give them a chance.

That game will be a do or die game - win and the Olympic dream is still on, lose and it's all over. The USA are ranked higher than Ireland, but Ireland shocked the Americans 2-0 already on Tuesday. If Ireland manage to get past the Americans, they can improve their chances as a better placed "loser" by winning in the 5th/6th place playoff.

If it gets to that point, Ireland will need a number of the teams that finish the semifinals better than them to win their continental tournaments so that their qualifying place can be transferred down.


Essentially, Ireland have a vital game on Saturday, and could do their chances a lot of good if they win that and the subsequent playoff game to finish fifth and be in a position to pray for the right results in the continental tournaments.

Picture credit: David Aliaga / SPORTSFILE

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