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Fulton rues missed opportunity as luck deserts Irish

Spain 2 Ireland 1

By Graham Hamilton

Don't mention the luck of the Irish to coach Craig Fulton, as it clearly didn't shine upon his players yesterday as they missed the first chance to qualify for the World Cup finals by going down 2-1 to Spain in the qualifying quarter-finals in Johannesburg.

The Green Machine bossed possession, had more circle entries and had twice the number of shots (14) than Spain - but ended up on the losing side.

And the reason? Spanish goalkeeper Quico Cortes was in remarkable form, stood tall against the Irish attack and was beaten only once from 10 penalty corners.

It's the second successive game that Ireland's penalty corner routine has let them down, and that's an area which will need improvement when they face France in the fifth-eighth place play-offs tomorrow (1.30pm).

They were also unfortunate when Eugene Magee had a great solo run but saw his shot on the reverse whistle wide of the post and when Sean Murray scooped the ball over the Spanish keeper only to see it glance him on the helmet and bounce clear.

And then there was the injury to Johnny McKee - he fell awkwardly and the Irish camp are awaiting X-rays to see if it is a broken collarbone.

Spain punished the Irish for their misses when Ricardo Sanchez scored from a second phase penalty corner.

Alan Sothern finally converted a set-piece to level matters but Alvaro Iglesias got the winner when he swept home a crash ball and, despite all the Irish pressure, the Spanish held on.

All is not lost, though, as the men - like their female counterparts - go into the play-offs, where a win over France tomorrow would set them up for a fifth-place finish, which also guarantees qualification.

"It was a tough loss," said Fulton. "It's good we are winning corners and perhaps next time we will convert them."

Australia beat Egypt 4-0 and in the semi-finals will face Belgium, who beat New Zealand 2-0. Spain face Germany, who beat France 4-1.

Meanwhile, the Irish women begin their fifth-eighth place play-offs with a clash against hosts South Africa this afternoon (1.30pm) knowing that a win would keep their dream very much alive.

Belfast Telegraph

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