Belfast Telegraph

Uruguay instead of Cuba for Ireland in qualifier

By John Flack

Cuba have pulled out of Ireland's Olympic qualifier in Canada next year.

The Cubans cited financial hardship as the main reason behind their decision and they have been replaced in the tournament by Uruguay.

Only the winning nation will go through to Beijing and most pundits would expect Ireland to be battling it out with hot favourites Korea.

Nevertheless national coach Gene Muller wasn't unhappy at the news.

Ireland would have expected to beat Cuba and they certainly now will be expected to gain victory against their replacement.

Neither the Cubans nor their South American rivals are highly rated on a continent where Argentina traditionally reign supreme.

"The Cubans would have had some good individual players and might have posed us a few problems, but we would have been hoping to beat them," said Muller.

" We now expect that we can beat Uruguay who, by definition, aren't as good a side as Cuba."

Muller is realistic enough to know that Korea are likely to pose by far the biggest threat and certainly more so than either hosts Canada (ranked 23rd in the world), Italy (19th) or Malaysia (25th).

Meanwhile it's been confirmed that Ireland will be travelling to South Africa in the New Year as part of the preparation for the trip to Victoria.

"It's definitely South Africa and it's likely we will play several games against them when we are out there," Muller explained.

"I've heard that the Dutch under-21s are also there at the same time, but we are not sure yet if there will be any games against them. We'll wait and see."

Ireland continue the early part of their build up with a three match series against Scotland this weekend.

Games between the two nations have been around 50-50 in terms of results in recent years and a few more close encounters are expected this time around.

At domestic level Victorians are having an excellent season so far. They face Knock tonight and Ards on Saturday in two more tests of their mettle.

On Saturday they dismissed former winners Old Alex from the ESB Irish Senior Cup 2-0.

"The workrate was fantastic, though Alex have lost a few players in recent months, " said Vics coach Roy Mairs.

FIXTURES: Tonight: Premier League: Victorians v Knock (Deramore, 8.15pm), Friday: Knock v Ballymoney (Comber LC, 8pm) Saturday. Victorians v Ards (UUJ, 2.30pm), Pegasus v Lurgan (Queen's, 2.30pm), Armagh v Harlequins (Ardmore, 4pm), Ballymena v Randalstown (Ballymena, 4pm).

Senior One: Lisnagarvey v Ballyclare (Hillsborough, 2.30pm), Coleraine v Civil Service (UUC, 2.30pm), Cookstown v North Down (Cookstown HS, 4pm), Greenisland v Portadown (Carrick LC, 2.30pm), Omagh v Priorians (Omagh, TBC).

Internationals: Friday: Scotland v Ireland (6pm).

Saturday: Scotland v Ireland (3pm).

Sunday: Scotland v Ireland (11am).

Belfast Telegraph


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