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Zoe Wilson in action for Ireland

Zoe Wilson in action for Ireland

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Zoe Wilson in action for Ireland

Ireland's women will have two opportunities to qualify for the 2022 World Cup instead of the usual one after the sport's global governing body yesterday announced significant changes to the qualification process.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has decided to increase the number of places allocated from the various continental championships from five to 11.​

Part of the rationale behind the FIH decision relates to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and an already crowded hockey calendar in 2021 with the elite Pro League and the five continental events also taking place in the same year.​

Previously, only the European Championship winners, in Ireland's case, qualified automatically for the World Cup but now the quota has been increased to four.​ Under the old format, Ireland would have been left with the near impossible task of winning the bi-annual event to secure an automatic ticket.​

Some of the top teams in the world are in Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany and England which made Ireland's task all the tougher.​

Now, though, Katie Mullan's team have a fighting chance of making it to a second consecutive World Cup at the first attempt via the Euros.​

They will be up against reigning European champions the Netherlands, Spain and Scotland in the group stages of the competition in Amsterdam next June.​

A top-two finish in their pool would secure a semi-final spot, a guaranteed top-four finish and with it automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.​

"The prospect of playing Holland in their own back yard is exciting," said Randalstown and Ireland defender Zoe Wilson.​

If Ireland were unable to better their fifth place finish at the 2019 Euros in Antwerp, they would go into a double-headed qualifier with the winner booking one of the remaining five World Cup places available.​

Ireland's men will be aiming for a strong performance in the second division tournament in Poland next September to secure their place in the World Cup qualifiers.

Belfast Telegraph