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New World Cup qualifying process simplifies matters and that's a boost for Ireland: Dancer

 

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Real lift: Ireland women’s coach Sean Dancer has given his approval to the new World Cup qualification process

Real lift: Ireland women’s coach Sean Dancer has given his approval to the new World Cup qualification process

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Real lift: Ireland women’s coach Sean Dancer has given his approval to the new World Cup qualification process

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) have introduced radical and welcome changes to the qualifying process for the next men's and women's World Cups.

Instead of being involved in a protracted series of qualifying tournaments which has been the norm in recent years, the route will now be much more straightforward.

Teams will be asked to play a two-legged tie on a home and away format, with the winners on aggregate progressing, if necessary via shoot-out if the scores are level after the double-header.

The World Cup qualifiers are due to take place in March 2022 and the match-ups will be determined on the basis of world rankings shortly before then, with higher-rated teams pitted against those lower on the list.

It will therefore be important that both Ireland teams stay in or around their current place in the pecking order to get as favourable a draw as possible, with the women currently eighth on the global list and the men 13th.

Nine or 10 places in the showpiece will be on offer, with the winners of the five continental Championships securing automatic qualification for the next World Cup.

The women's event is scheduled for July 2022 and the men's in January 2023, with the host nations also being awarded direct entry into the World Cup.

In another significant change from the qualifying sequence employed in previous major events, including the Olympics, the continental Championships will take place before the new-look qualifiers.

In the past, the five continental events have been held after the World Cup qualifiers, meaning that other teams have, in many instances, had to wait for several months to determine if they were to move up the reserve list to progress.

For example, Ireland's women finished seventh in the old-style World Cup qualifying event in Johannesburg in July 2017 which involved seven matches after having to qualify for the final eliminator by playing the same number of games in an earlier tournament.

Their achievement in South Africa was not high enough to initially secure a berth in the London World Cup in 2018.

Ireland had to sweat it out until the outcome of the European Championship was known as another place was freed up when the Netherlands won that competition.

They then finally booked their tickets to London in October 2017 when Australia won the Oceanic title to qualify for the finals, thus moving Ireland up to take the next available World Cup place.

National women's head coach Sean Dancer has given the new qualifying process the thumbs up, although his contract is due to expire after next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were postponed due to the coronavirus.

"Obviously time will tell but, in the end, the FIH trying to make things more simple than complex is always to be welcomed," he said. "Being an amateur sport here in Ireland, it's always good to make things as easy as possible and this move certainly does that.

"For now, though, our main focus will be on our preparations for Tokyo, once we get back to playing hockey again."

Belfast Telegraph