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Craig Fulton's fighters book Rio Olympics ticket with flourish

Ireland 4-1 Malaysia

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland's men have defied the odds to finish fifth at the World League 3 series - and that means they are virtually certain to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

Craig Fulton's squad, nine of whom are from Ulster, crushed Malaysia 4-1 in their final game in Antwerp.

And with Great Britain winning bronze with three Ulstermen in their ranks, it has been a great series for these islands.

Ulsterman Peter Caruth was the Irish hero, setting up the first goal and scoring a wonderful second but overall it was a tremendous team performance against a side that had already beaten them 4-2 in the pool phase.

"I'm feeling on top of the world," said Caruth afterwards. "To set up the first goal and then score the second makes all that training worthwhile. Roll on Rio!"

The Green Machine, though, will have to wait a few months before confirmation of their inclusion in Brazil. But they would only lose out if there were a freak set of results in the forthcoming continental championships.

Germany, Argentina and Netherlands have already qualified from the World League 3 tournament in Buenos Aires and now Australia, Belgium and Great Britain from the series in Antwerp.

There will also be slots for the five continental champions, but as some of them will have already qualified, it allows the fourth and fifth teams from the two World League 3 tournaments to step up and go through.

One has been decided, with India, who finished fourth in Antwerp, crowned Asian champions.

It's always Argentina or Canada who win the Pan-American championships and always world champions Australia who win the Oceanic championships, and if any of those permutations happens, it allows Canada and Spain as fourth and fifth-placed finishers in Buenos Aires to qualify.

Then comes the European championships. And with the top five seeds - Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Spain - already qualified by this stage, it means that if any one of them win in London, then Ireland as fifth-placed finishers in Antwerp would be on their way to Rio regardless of who wins the African championships or whether Brazil can qualify as host country.

The Irish certainly got off to the perfect start against Malaysia with Caruth's cross squeezed in at the near post by Kyle Good after just five minutes.

And three minutes later Caruth collected the ball at the top of the circle and roofed a beauty.

The second quarter was all Malaysia but keeper Harte denied Shamsul twice while Faizel shot wide with a gaping goal.

But ten minutes into the second half the Green Machine increased their lead when Alan Sothern met Mitch Darling's reverse cross and deflected it into the net.

Malaysia put on a high press but Ulster trio Paul Gleghorne, Jonathan Bell and John Jackson were particularly impressive in front of keeper Harte.

Malaysia earned seven second-half penalty corners but converted just one through Faiz with five minutes to go.

But in the final minute the Irish broke clear and Shane O'Donoghue's cross was deflected in by a diving Mitch Darling.

The Irish celebrated in front of their huge support with a Klinnsmann dive, and now it's all about the two-month wait to confirm their tickets to Rio.

Great Britain beat India 5-1 which means Ulstermen Iain Lewers, David Ames and Mark Gleghorne return home with bronze, with Mark particularly pleased that brother Paul and Ireland could be joining him in Rio next summer.

Final: Australia 1 Belgium 0; Bronze: Great Britain 5 India 1; 5th-6th: Ireland 4 Malaysia 1; 7th-8th: France 2 Pakistan 1; 9th-10th: Poland 4 China 2

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