Irish now face world's best after last-gasp loss
Ireland 1 Belgium 2
Ireland men will get two days' rest at the World League 3 tournament in Antwerp before meeting world champions Australia in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Craig Fulton's side put up a great show against Pool B's top seeds Belgium yesterday before losing 2-1 when the hosts' captain JJ Dohmen scored with the very last action of the game.
The expected defeat leaves them in fourth position in their pool, as per their initial ranking, but with a difficult crossover quarter-final against the favourites, the Kookaburras.
There's no denying the Irish spirit - they fell behind to the Belgians but bounced back and then overcame a difficult period in the third quarter when they were down to eight men after two yellow cards and a green.
But another yellow with a minute to go, and Ireland deciding to take off their keeper to give them an additional outfield man in the final two minutes, gave Belgium the initiative to produce the winner right at the death.
Ulsterman Peter Caruth won his 100th cap but was disappointed at some of the decisions that went against his side, a criticism that other teams have voiced already.
"It's an honour to reach this milestone, but we were gutted to lose out at the death. We dug in and almost nicked a win but some of the decisions seemed to favour the home team," he said.
Belgium bossed the first quarter but it was Caruth who came closest with a tremendous shot which the keeper saved.
Loick Luypaert converted Belgium's first penalty corner but Shane O'Donoghue levelled with a similar effort before half-time.
Belgium certainly knew they were in a game and the umpires dealt out five yellow cards, three of them to Ireland.
Just when a draw seemed possible, against all the odds, came Belgium's dramatic late winner, although a draw would still have meant facing Australia.
The chances are that the Irish will falter against the Aussies on Wednesday, thus denying them an automatic place at the Rio Olympics, which means they will have to win their two games in the 5th to 8th play-offs to achieve their objective.
The Irish women, of course, know all about this stage of the competition. They won their pool but lost their crossover quarter-final and couldn't lift themselves in the final two games, losing to opposition which they had beaten in the pool phase.
Certainly, their Rio dream is far from over. They have shown that they can live with the best and just need a little luck.
Meanwhile, Great Britain, with three Ulstermen in their ranks, are in a stronger position to qualify automatically. They finished second in their pool after beating Malaysia 3-1 and now meet Pool A third-placed Pakistan for a place in the semis.
IRELAND: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, C Harte, P Gleghorne, P Caruth, S O'Donoghue, C Cargo, M Darling, A Sothern, M Watt. Subs: J Bell, D Carlisle, S Dowds, E Magee, K Shimmins, K Good, D Fitzgerald
Results: Pool A: Pakistan 2 France 2, Australia 6 India 2. Pool B: Great Britain 3 Malaysia 1, Ireland 1 Belgium 2
Wednesday: Quarter-finals: Australia v Ireland (12pm); Pakistan v GB (2.30pm); India v Malaysia; Belgium v France.