Britain secure Olympic spot

BRITAIN lived dangerously in Barcelona yesterday, but got the win they needed to book their ticket to Atlanta. With one qualifying game still to come, they made sure of their place at the Olympic Games by beating Malaysia 3-2.

Rob Thompson snapped up a fourth-minute chance to open the scoring and, after a quick reply from Noor Saiful, goals from Calum Giles and Nick Thompson gave Britain a comfortable 3-1 lead at half-time. However there was a tense finish as the Malaysians staged a spirited second-half comeback, with Mirnawan Nawawi reducing the lead from a 63rd-minute penalty corner. Great Britain coach David Whitaker was a relieved man afterwards. "After a great first half we created pressure for ourselves," he said. "But the big thing is we got the result we needed to make sure of our place in the Olympics."

With one more round of matches to play, the victory guarantees Britain a place in the top five of the eight nations competing here. Their final placing will be determined after tomorrow's match against Belgium.

Britain got off to a flying start when John Shaw moved down the right to hammer the ball into the circle, giving Thompson time to choose his spot before slamming his shot home. There was a setback when a corner, carelessly conceded by Jon Wyatt, allowed Saiful to equalise from a penalty corner, but, in the 18th minute, Giles, also from a corner, put Britain back into the lead. Just before the interval Nick Thompson finished off a well-worked penalty corner to make it 3-1.

The Malaysians, under orders from their German coach Volker Knapp to take the game to Britain, started to cause problems in the second half but there were still chances at the other end, with Thompson twice going close to increasing the lead. The second half was punctuated by temporary suspensions for bad tackles, with Britain's Soma Singh and Shaw receiving yellow cards and Malaysia's Nawawi also leaving the field.

Britain failed to win any second-half corners, denying Giles the chance to add to his six goals in Barcelona, but the lively Malaysians forced three. A third corner yielded their second goal, in the 63rd minute, when Nawawi squeezed his shot between David Luckes' pads and the post.

"We won, we're in Atlanta and now the real work starts," a delighted Whitaker said. "It's a tough tournament, with seven games in 10 days, and the boys have come through it magnificently. I'm proud of them."

Belgium's bid to qualify ended in failure after a 4-2 defeat by eight- times Olympic champions India, with veteran captain Pargat Singh scoring a hat-trick of corner goals. Joeri Beunen scored both Belgian replies from corners.

Canada kept up their challenge for a qualifying place with a spirited 3-3 draw against Spain, who have already booked their place in Atlanta. Canada trail Malaysia by two points and now hope Malaysia suffer their customary defeat at India's hands tomorrow before they play their own final match against Belarus, who are bottom of the rankings.