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Ireland men and women handed tough draws for European quests


By John Flack

Ireland's women have been drawn to face England for the third major tournament in a row as they prepare for next year's European Championship in Antwerp.

Graham Shaw's team will also play Germany and Belarus in the series, which is scheduled for next August.

Ireland narrowly avoided relegation from the top flight at the corresponding tournament in Amsterdam last year when they lost 4-1 to England in the group stage.

However, they have come on leaps and bounds since then and defied the odds to lift the silver medals at the World Cup in London earlier this month.

In doing so, they defeated higher-ranked nations India (twice) and Spain, only losing to England (1-0) in their pool.

The winners of the European Championship will clinch an automatic place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

However, Ireland are unlikely to set their sights so high, despite their heroics in London, as the Netherlands will start as hot favourites to add the Euro title to the world crown they lifted by beating Shaw's team 6-0 in the final.

The Dutch have been drawn in the other pool for the Antwerp series, along with Spain, Belgium and Russia.

Ireland's men, whose World Cup campaign takes place in India in November, have also landed a tough draw in the Euros as they must face the mighty Netherlands in their group along with Germany and Scotland, with Belgium, England and Spain making up the other section.

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