Heartbreak for Irish women as Olympic hockey dreams suffer blow after shoot-out defeat
Ireland 1 China 1(China win on penalties)
Ireland's hopes of making the Olympic Games in Rio have been dealt a huge blow after a gut-wrenching penalty shootout defeat to China today.
After previously defeating the USA and South Africa, a win for Ireland would have sealed a place in the last four of the World Hockey League.
However despite a highly dominant performance, they drew 1-1 in Valencia before losing on penalties.
All is not lost, however.
While only the top three are officially ensured of qualification for Rio, the fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams could yet still earn a place at the Games depending on results from other continental tournaments.
Ireland coach Darren Smith could not hide his disappointment after the result but insisted that the ticket to Rio was not out of their sights just yet.
"Losing the shootout is devastating. I thought over the match we had created enough but they defended the corners really well and we weren't as clinical as we would have liked," he said.
"It was an even game and they took their chance in the shoot-out but it's bitterly disappointing.
"All we wanted was to get to Rio, it's the biggest carrot in our sport, the women's team has never gone.
"We know to get their would be huge... Not just for the girls, but for the hockey public and the nation of Ireland and we want to do that for our country.
"We'll get some metal up our back and see if we can get a fifth or sixth spot when we line up on Saturday."
The Irish were dominant in the game with 11 shots to China's four but failed to convert from 13 penalty corners.
Chloe Watkins cancelled out Zhang's early strike in the third quarter but they lost the shootout 4-3.
Their captain had two opportunities in the shootout to send her team to Rio but was frustrated on both occasions.
Zhang beat Emma Gray from a tight angle to give the Chinese the lead in the first quarter.
Katie Mullan had a gilt-edged chance to equalise early in the second quarter but was denied by the China netminder Li Dongxiao.
China really should have doubled their lead at the start of the third but missed an open goal.
Ireland did finally get the goal they craved so badly as Chloe Watkins slapped the ball home after a great Irish move.
After failing to convert from 12 penalty corners, Ireland finally found the net from their 13th in the fourth quarter with Megan Frazier lashing the ball home to scenes of great celebration but it was short-lived.
The Russian referee decided to review the goal after Chinese protestations and it was found that the ball hit an Irish foot in the lead-up to the goal.
Ireland asked for a penalty stroke with just 68 seconds to go when Dillon was taken out by the last Chinese defender.
The foul was outside the 'D' however and there was just a penalty corner, which Ireland failed to convert.
Ayeisha McFerran replaced Emma Gray in the Irish goal for the shoot-out.
She saved the first penalty with her first touch of the entire tournament and Megan Frazer made it count by scoring her's.
It was level after the second set of penalties it was level as the Chinese scored and Emma Smith saw her effort saved.
Four successful penalties followed and the game would then be decided by sudden earth.
McFerran produced another magnificent save and Nikki Evans had the chance to send Ireland to Rio but Li saved it with an illegal stick tackle.
Evans had another opportunity with the retake but was frustrated by the Chinese keeper.
Megan Frazer hit the post with Ireland's sixth penalty and it was advantage China but McFerran stayed tall and made another fantastic save.
Anna O'Flanagan was unsuccessful as she went too far left.
Liang beat McFerran's brave resistance and it was heartbreak for the Irish.
No Irish hockey team has ever qualified for the Olympics and not since 1948 has any Irish team qualified for the Games.