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Ireland ready for their biggest game

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team face the biggest game of their lives today when they will bid to make history by qualifying for an Olympic Games for the first time.

A win over China in the quarter-finals of the World League 3 tournament will be enough to confirm their ticket to Rio 2016.

On Tuesday, Ireland beat the United States for the first time to top their group and now Darren Smith's team will be hoping to score a first-ever win over the Chinese, who are ranked seventh in the world.

It was China who denied Ireland a place in the 2000 Games in Sydney in similar circumstances when they defeated them 1-0 with a 'golden goal' winner at the qualifying tournament in Milton Keynes.

But those results will be of no bearing today against a Chinese side, ranked seventh in the world, that has looked a pale shadow of the one that lifted the silver medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

In Valencia, they started well with a 3-0 win over Canada but have subsequently lost to Argentina, Spain and Great Britain without scoring.

In contrast, Ireland, who are ranked 14th in the world, have punched well above their weight, defeating higher-rated opposition in the shape of South Africa (11th) and USA (5th).

Coach Smith, while delighted with his team's form to date, knows they cannot afford to drop their standards if they are to qualify.

"We play with a lot of heart, determination, you need that along with a smidge of things to go your way," said the New Zealander.

Much will depend on the form of team captain Megan Frazer who was an inspiration against USA, proving her worth all over the pitch and scoring one of the goals and setting up another.

"We've done all the research we need on China and we will be doing all in our power to get the win which would take us to Rio," said the Ulster Elks midfielder.

"It's the sort of game we like to play in and if we do the basics well and stick to our tactical plan, like we did against USA, then we are capable of winning.

"Playing against higher-ranked opposition always seems to bring the best out of us."

Ireland haven't shown their full deck of penalty corners so far - Frazer has yet to deliver the drag-flick - and set-pieces could well be crucial in today's showdown.

Fixtures: Quarter-finals: Ireland v China (10.30am); Argentina v USA (2pm); GB v South Africa (4.30pm); Germany v Spain (6pm).

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