Irish hopes hang by a thread

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Ireland's hopes of making sure of a place in the Sydney Olympics yesterday disappeared when they lost 2-0 to Spain, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic champions, in the qualifying tournament here. All is not lost for Ireland, but if they are to book their ticket they must now take the hard route of winning their last two games, the first of which will betomorrow against either Great Britain or China.

Spain's overjoyed Dutch coach, Marc Lammers, said after his side's victory: "Wonderful for me and the girls and for the whole of Spain.

"We only have 600 hockey players and to qualify is just perfect. We have only three players with experience from the Barcelona Games and the rest are really young and have worked so hard."

Spain's 21-year-old Nuria Camon, from the CD Terrassa club, confirmed that celebrations would be restricted to red wine and Coke. "We now really want to make the final."

Ireland's coach, Riet Kuper, who is also from the Netherlands, was extremely disappointed with her team's performance. "I don't think we had a chance. Spain played a very tactical game, pressed us and closed us down. We were too hasty and gave away the ball."

Indeed, although the first half was goalless, Spain camped in the Irish half for long periods and only resolute defending and brave goalkeeping from Tara Browne kept the free-playing Spanish at bay until Camon opened the scoring from a penalty corner four minutes after the interval. Then Erdoitza Goiketxea added the second after 58 minutes, diving in to beat Browne from Nuria Moreno's cross.

Earlier the luckless and pointless Indians, who are finding the biting wind very trying, took a 1-0 interval lead into their game against the United States, only to concede two second-half goals and become the first team to be eliminated.