Irish women beaten by China in World League shoot-out
Ireland missed the chance to secure a place at the Olympics after a penalty shoot-out defeat by China in the World League 3 quarter-final in Valencia.
Xiaoxue Zhang gave China an early lead before a dominant Ireland wasted eight penalty corners in the first half.
Chloe Watkins fired home the equaliser on 42 minutes while Megan Frazer's late strike was ruled out.
It went to penalties and Nikki Evans squandered an opportunity to win it before China prevailed 4-3.
Ireland can still qualify for Rio, depending on results in other tournaments, but this was a golden chance for the women to make the Olympic Games for the first time.
China, ranked seventh and seven places above Ireland, made the perfect start when Zhang capitalised on a defensive mistake to slide the ball past keeper Emma Gray after five minutes.
Ireland made a positive response but failed to turn possession and a succession of penalty corners into a goal.
Katie Mullan went closest for Ireland in the first half when her powerful shot was saved.
China showed their threat on the counter-attack early in the second half and Ireland were fortunate not to concede again.
Irish pressure was finally rewarded when Watkins netted from close range after good work from Katie Dillon.
Ireland skipper Frazer rifled home with five minutes left but it was disallowed because of a foot infringement.
Ayeisha McFerran replaced Gray for the shoot-out and the Pegasus keeper saved the opening penalty.
Frazer, Anna O'Flanagan and Aine Connery converted their penalties and it was level at 3-3 with Evans the 10th taker.
However, she failed to net and the shoot-out went to sudden death - Fraser and O'Flanagan missed before the Chinese clinched victory.
Ireland are now targeting a fifth place finish in the tournament, which would boost their Olympic qualification hopes.
"From our perspective, we need to make sure we are determined and focused, defend well and tackle well and get into that fifth/sixth place playoff and give ourselves a chance of going to Rio," said Ireland coach Darren Smith.
"There might be a little bit of hurt for the next while but we hope that clears and we get the girls back into it."