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Irish eyes smiling as Fulton's men make Euro history

By Graham Hamilton

There were celebrations aplenty in the Irish camp last night after they claimed a place in the European semi-finals for the first time in their history.

And to cap a wonderful day, the Green Machine learned they are now up to first in line to book a slot at the Rio Olympics.

Craig Fulton's lads secured their place in Europe's top four with a battling 2-2 draw against World No. 4 Belgium in London yesterday - but it doesn't get any easier as it's now a semi-final showdown with World No.2 the Netherlands tomorrow (1.15pm).

If they were to cause an upset and win the Euros, then Ireland would automatically qualify for Rio, but that looks beyond them.

However, with the other semi-finalists - Netherlands, Germany and England - having already qualified for Rio it means the automatic slot will instead go to Spain, the next best placed team from the World League 3.

Ireland are now up to first in line, and await the outcome of October's Oceania and Africa events.

World champions Australia have already qualified for the Olympics, so if they win the Oceania series as expected, then that place will go to Ireland.

Back to yesterday, and the Irish were twice ahead before finishing 2-2 which left them second in their pool on goal difference.

Peter Caruth converted Shane O'Donoghue's cross for a half-time lead and although Sebastien Dockier levelled, John Jackson made it 2-1 following O'Donoghue's penalty corner.

Florent van Aubel equalised again but the Irish went on the offensive before surviving two penalty corners in the final minute.

"It was a great team performance," said man of the match Caruth. "We knew it would come down to the wire but we had practised for these situations."

England, with three Ulstermen, reached the semis with a 4-0 win over Spain, with goals from Ashley Jackson (2), Barry Middleton and Chris Griffiths, and now face Germany tomorrow (7.30pm).

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