The dream of qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games moved a little closer to reality for two hopeful nations on Saturday, with Ireland and Russia winning their respective semi-finals at the men’s Hockey World League Round 2 tournament in San Diego, California.
Ireland’s 2-0 triumph over Canada and Austria’s shoot-out victory over Russia not only guaranteed a place in the competition final, but also sealed a safe passage through to the HWL Semi-Final phase where coveted berths at Rio 2016 are up for grabs.
The meeting between Ireland (FIH World Ranking: 15) and Canada (WR: 14) – the top ranked teams in the competition – was both hugely entertaining and high in quality, with the Irishmen nicking the win thanks to a brace of goals from Shane O’Donoghue. The penalty corner expert netted twice in three third quarter minutes as the Green Machine reached the tournament final and made significant progress along the Road to Rio.
Austria’s (WR: 22) ticket to the HWL Semi-Finals was assured thanks largely to goalkeeper Mateusz Szymczyk, who saved a penalty stroke in the final minute of normal time as their match against Russia (WR: 19) finished with the scores locked at 1-1. The save proved to be decisive, with Russia’s Igor Siniagin and Pavel Plesetskiy both failing to convert in the shoot-out before star striker Michael Körper found the target to give Austria a 4-2 win and spark jubilent celebrations.
Earlier in the day, Italy (WR: 32) and Chile (WR: 25) sealed their places in Sunday’s 5-6 classification match thanks to victories over Trinidad & Tobago (WR: 30) and USA (WR: 27) respectively.
All eight teams will be in action on Sunday (7th March), with the final day’s play getting underway with Trinidad & Tobago and host nation USA going head-to-head in the 7-8 classification match (0830 local time – UTC/GMT -8) before Italy and Chile take to the field in the battle for 5th place (1045).
Canada and Russia (1300) will contest a hugely significant 3-4 classification match, with the prize of a place in the Olympic qualifier stage of the Hockey World League being on the line ahead of the showpiece final between Ireland and Austria (1515). To see all tournament fixtures and results, please click here.
A total of nine qualification places for the HWL Semi-Finals are available in Round 2, with the top three finishers at each of the tournaments in Singapore (SIN), San Diego (USA) and Cape Town (RSA) all being certain to compete in the next phase. Malaysia, Poland and Japan all qualified for the HWL Semi-Finals thanks to top three finishes at the event in Singapore (SIN) earlier this year. To learn about how the teams progress through the competition in the hope of reaching the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, click here.
You can keep track of all of the action from San Diego on the official tournament microsite.