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How to work out Ireland's Olympic play-off opponents as Cox's men prepare for Tokyo decider

 

Clear goal: Alexander Cox will aim to lead Irish up rankings
Clear goal: Alexander Cox will aim to lead Irish up rankings

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men are almost certainly going to have to travel to a team ranked higher on the world ladder for the two-legged eliminator which will decide whether they reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Alexander Cox's lads booked their place in the autumn showdown by finishing runners-up in the FIH Series finals in France last weekend, but face a tricky task if they are to make it to their second Olympic finals on the trot.

Their opposition won't be known until early September, by which time the five continental Championships are completed.

But if you are a betting man, then put your money on the Irish having to go to Canada - currently ranked one place above them.

First things first, though, and Cox is giving the players a two-week break before beginning training camps again, followed by a tournament lined up in Spain ahead of August's European Championships in Antwerp.

Regards the Olympic eliminator, it's very much a convoluted format now used by the world's governing body.

Those eligible for the seven autumn eliminators are the top four teams in the new but much criticised ProLeague, and the top two teams from each of the three FIH Series finals.

The remaining positions will be filled by those highest ranked who haven't already qualified.

Break that down, and this is what you find.

The top four finishers in the ProLeague are Australia, Belgium, Netherlands and Great Britain, and the six to qualify from the FIH Series finals are Ireland, France, Canada, Malaysia, India and South Africa.

Japan are the Asian champions but had already qualified for the Olympics as hosts, and it's almost a foregone conclusion that World No.2 Australia will be crowned Oceania champions, Argentina will be Pan-American champions, and South Africa will be African champions.

That only leaves the European Championships, which could go to any one of Belgium, Netherlands, Germany or England, or maybe even Spain.

Let's assume Belgium for this scenario (but you could substitute any of the other top European teams if you want), and that Australia, Argentina and South Africa win their continental titles as they always do, and so these go through to Tokyo along with Japan.

That automatically takes out Australia and Belgium from the four ProLeague qualifiers for the autumn eliminators, South Africa from the FIH Series qualifiers and Argentina from the world rankings.

That leaves Netherlands and England to join the five remaining FIH Series qualifiers, a total of seven - so seven more will qualify simply because they are the top-ranked nations who didn't get through by either of those two routes.

On the current rankings, although they could change marginally come September, that means Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Pakistan, China, Korea and probably Egypt, who could overtake Austria, will take part in the eliminators too.

The eliminators will see the top-ranked team take on the bottom-ranked, second-highest against second-bottom etc, with the highest-ranked team hosting the two-legged affairs.

Ireland's current position would see them being the eighth highest-ranked team of those 14 - meaning that they would travel to the seventh highest, which is Canada.

It's now up to the Irish to try to climb up a place on the world ladder to turn an away eliminator into a home one - but that seems unlikely unless they could match their 2015 European bronze, or better it, to get additional ranking points.

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