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Ireland men hit for six but World hopes remain intact

Belgium 6 Ireland 2

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men's coach Craig Fulton will spend today lifting his players ahead of tomorrow's crucial World Cup qualifier pool game against Egypt in Johannesburg, as a win would ensure they wouldn't be the team automatically eliminated before the knock-out phase.

The Green Machine suffered what was only their second defeat in 17 games this calendar year when they crashed 6-2 to Olympic silver medallists Belgium yesterday, but it doesn't really affect their chances of making it through to the quarter-finals as this defeat would have been expected.

With a 2-0 win over South Africa already under their belts from the opening day, the Irish - with a total of 10 Ulstermen in their ranks - know that a win tomorrow would virtually confine Egypt to elimination and give them a real chance of progressing to the India 2018 finals.

But first they'll have to put the Belgian defeat firmly out of their minds - after taking the lead in the 13th minute they were second best against one of the tournament favourites, who have now scored 16 goals in two games.

One thing which pleased Fulton was that his players converted the only two chances that came their way from open play.

But, worryingly, they conceded seven penalty corners, from which the lethal Tom Boon rattled in a hat-trick, and Loick Luypaert added one from a penalty stroke which came as a result of another set-piece.

"It's now all about the next game," admitted Fulton. "We look forward to a good performance against Egypt which would put us into the knock-out phase.

"We have areas to improve upon, but we have to accept that Belgium are a quality team with power in all areas, with penalty corners their strength."

It was Stephen Cole, playing in his first major tournament, who gave the Irish the lead when he converted a cross after good work by Jeremy Duncan on the right wing.

But Belgium - who have never lost to the Irish in 10 tournament outings - roared back in the second quarter with goals from Simon Gougnard and Cedric Charlier and the first of Boon's penalty corner conversions.

Luypaert's penalty stroke was quickly followed by Boon's second and third penalty corners which left the Irish shell-shocked.

But they did manage to conjure up a late consolation when Alan Sothern stroked home on the reverse after good work from Matthew Nelson on the right.

It was a particularly difficult day for Ireland's David Harte, twice the world's No.1 goalkeeper - he unusually conceded six goals but he also took a full-blooded shot to his visor, which would have put most keepers out of the game, but he battled on.

Meanwhile, it's back to the women's qualifiers today and the Irish women, after gaining draws against two teams higher on the world ladder, can almost certainly avoid early elimination too if they can beat Poland (1pm, BT Sport).

Belfast Telegraph

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