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Ireland will reach World stage if they conquer Spain

Germany 2 Ireland 0

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men will face Spain in tomorrow's quarter-finals as the World Cup qualification process hots up in Johannesburg.

Craig Fulton's lads lost 2-0 to Olympic bronze medallists Germany yesterday but still finished third in the pool behind the two professional outfits, Germany and Belgium, with Egypt and hosts South Africa adrift at the bottom.

And with Spain squeezing out New Zealand 4-3, they finished second in their pool behind runaway leaders Australia but ahead of the Black Sticks, France and Japan to set up the crossover quarter-final against the Irish.

Spain invariably edge out the Green Machine in any major tournaments, but that gap has closed in recent years and there remains optimism that they can topple their European rivals and book a semi-final slot which guarantees automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals in India.

To date the Spanish have beaten Japan 2-1, France 2-0 and New Zealand 4-3, but they went down to Australia 2-0.

But all is not lost if the Irish are defeated, for they would then go into the fifth-eighth play-offs, with fifth also earning qualification and sixth and seventh likely to go through too after additional places become available following the continental championships - generally three places become available as some of the continental champions would have already qualified.

The Irish certainly gave a good account of themselves against the exceptional Germans yesterday but clearly found it difficult to break down the well organised defence.

They also failed to put away any of their four penalty corner awards which would have made a difference, and they were punished after 12 minutes when Tom Grambusch drag-flicked Germany's first set-piece.

Paul Gleghorne's pin-point aerial balls kept the Irish in the frame but, despite some very good work by Eugene Magee and John Jackson in particular, the breakthrough just wouldn't come.

In an intense few minutes, the impressive Alan Sothern was denied, and then Jeremy Duncan hit the woodwork, but the methodical Germans wrapped things up 10 minutes from time when Martin Zwicker scored from close range after the umpire allowed advantage following a foot offence.

The Irish and Spanish clash is at 12.30pm tomorrow and will be shown live on BT Sport.

The other quarter-finals see Australia take on Egypt (10.15am), Germany face France (2.45pm) and Belgium square up to New Zealand (5pm).

Meanwhile, it's the Irish women's turn today, with their quarter-final against World No.3 Argentina at 12.30pm.

Graham Shaw's girls have suffered just one defeat to date but are expected to lose out to the other pool winners and are therefore likely to go into the fifth-eighth play-offs to try to keep their qualification hopes alive.

A shock win over Argentina would propel them into the semi-finals and also guarantee World Cup qualification, so there's everything to play for.

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