Hockey World League: Pakistan lose to Ireland, out of Rio Olympic race

Antwerp (Belgium): Once a powerhouse of the sport, Pakistan men's hockey team slumped to a new low today as it failed to qualify for next year's Rio Olympics after suffering a shocking 0-1 defeat to Ireland in a play-off match of the World League Semifinals, here today. 

Pakistan's loss in the first play-off match for the fifth to eighth spots means now they cannot finish above the seventh position in this tournament and the Olympic spots for 12 teams from both World League Semifinals cannot go below the sixth place.

This was the last chance for Pakistan to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games, after losing the Asian Games final to India in Incheon last year. 

Three-time gold medallists Pakistan are among the most successful team in Olympic hockey, only behind eight-time gold medallists India and four for Germany, which includes one by West Germany.

Today's result comes after Pakistan, for the first time in the game's history, also failed to qualify for the World Cup last year. 

Pakistan had failed to feature among the 12 teams for the 2014 World Cup, an event that they have won more times than any other country.

"This is a sad day for Pakistan hockey," said captain Muhammad Imran as he walked away from the pitch shaking his head in disbelief. 

"We had chances, but failed to convert them. We were misfiring throughout the tournament," said Imran.
"I feel sorry for the hockey lovers in Pakistan, who always expect a lot from the national team."

Imran said the morale in the Pakistan squad was very low after today's loss, which means they will now play for the seventh and eighth position on Sunday. "The mood in the team is downcast," he said. 

For Ireland, who won a silver medal in the 1908 Olympic hockey behind England, this was their first victory in 11 encounters against Pakistan.

The match-winner by Alan Sothern in penalty corner action in the 46th minute kept alive Ireland's dreams of making their first Olympic hockey appearance in a century.

Failing to convert their territorial domination into goals, Pakistan became more error-prone in their desperation to get the equaliser. 

With just a minute and a half left, they took off their goalkeeper to put in an additional striker on the pitch, but the move came too late. 

Irish captain David Harte, who under the bar blocked some Pakistan shots at the goal and saw others being sprayed wide, was delighted at the turn of events.

"Things did not go well for us in some previous matches, but I'm elated that we emerged winners today," said Harte. Three Olympic qualification spots are available to the top-placed teams from this competition, but some sides ranked up to the sixth place may also get a chance if any of the countries earn dual qualification by winning the continental tournaments.

India have secured the continental spot from Asia by virtue of their Asian Games gold medal.

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