Ireland haven’t qualified for the Olympics in a team sport since 1948 and neither of the country’s hockey teams have ever made it to a Games, but victory over China in Valencia this morning (10.30am, Sky Sports 1) will change all that.
That would guarantee Ireland a top four place in the 10-team competition. Currently, there are three automatic tickets to Rio in 2016 on offer here. But permutations from the other qualifying route, the continental championships, mean that up to six sides could earn an Olympic berth from Valencia, and a top four finish should be enough.
Darren Smith’s Green Army have been the surprise package of the World League 3 tournament in Valencia, topping a pool that contained three sides ranked above them. They hammered South Africa 4-1 and edged past minnows Uruguay 3-2 either side of a fighting performance in a 3-1 loss to European champions Germany.
That qualified them for the last eight but Tuesday’s stunning 2-0 success against world number five USA has earned them a favourable draw against China.
Cork Harlequins defender Sargent spoke candidly about her side’s defensive solidity that day and will be hoping for more of the same today: “When it comes towards the end of the game, you are willing to do everything you can to keep the ball out of the goal. Putting your body on the line is the least you can do.”
China are ranked seventh in the world but on current form are the most favourable draw Ireland could have hoped for.
China drew with world number two Australia ahead of this tournament and began it with a solid 3-0 win over Canada, but have since lost three on the bounce without scoring. Should they recover to beat Ireland today, the Green Army will get a second shot at qualifying for Rio in the 5th-8th place playoffs.