Final before the final’: Men in green and gold to push harder ahead of Japan clash

2012-05-02 00:00

THE South Africa men’s hockey team are oozing confidence ahead of the much-awaited Olympic Qualifier Tournament clash with host nation Japan that flicks off at 9 am South African time in the sleepy town of Kakamigahara today.

The match has already been dubbed “the final before the final” by Japanese media and fans, but there is no question of South Africa holding anything back ahead of Sunday’s 8 am gold medal match, which carries as its prize the last ticket on offer for the London 2012 Olympic Games men’s hockey event.

“There will be no holding back at all,” said South African captain Austin Smith after the team’s final training session yesterday.

“We are still looking for a 10 to 15% improvement and if we play the way we can, we should win comfortably.”

Japan came back from 3-0 down to only lose 3-2 against a backs-to-the-wall SA at the Champions Challenge in Randburg five months ago and Smith acknowledged their quality.

“Japan are organised, quick and very fit and they move the ball really well, but I don’t see them doing anything that can take us apart tactically.

“The only way they can get one over us is on the counterattack, if we make silly mistakes, that’s why we will concentrate on our defensive platforms when we turn the ball over, so we are in a position to close the counter down,” said Smith.

South Africa were defensively sound in Monday’s 5-2 win over China and two-goal Jonty Robinson praised the coaching staff for their game plan.

“We knew very clearly what they were going to do and put it together nicely to go 3-0 up at half-time,” said the midfielder.

“They came out firing in the second-half and forced seven penalty corners, only scoring one, so our corner defence was really good,” said the first-wave runner who got out of the starting blocks at pace to prevent a number of drag-flicks coming off.

“We are looking forward to Japan and some fast, exciting hockey.”

SA goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse played a key role in the victory with a series of top-class saves.

“The team is really gelling now and against Japan we are looking to book our spot in Sunday’s final.

“If we beat Japan we go to 12 points and are into the final for sure, but of course we don’t want to lose our momentum in Friday’s last round-robin match against Austria. We want to really be hitting our straps going into the final,” said the lanky keeper.

LOG IN BRIEF (ALL PLAYED 3)

1 Japan 9 points (goal difference 20); 2 South Africa 9 points (GD 17); 3 China 6 points (GD 6); 4 Austria 3 points (GD -3); 5 Czech Republic 0 points (GD -11); 6 Brazil 0 points (GD -29).

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