Men in green and gold looking sharp on eve of hockey Olympic qualifier

2012-04-26 00:00

THE South African men’s hockey team looked razor-sharp at training and are geared up to face Brazil in their first match of the Olympic Qualifier Tournament at Gifu Green Stadium, Japan, today.

It is a tournament they have to win to qualify for London 2012, and the 11.30 am flick-off is one that South African captain Austin Smith is anticipating with relish.

Smith said: “Everyone’s really excited to get going, feeling a bit better, a bit sharper now.

“The guys who came in [on Monday night] from Europe have recovered from a bit of jet-lag, the guys who’ve been here close to a week are looking good and everyone’s looking forward to it.”

The first practice with the South African-based and European club-based players together concentrated on set-pieces, both attacking and defensive penalty corners.

“We are looking to get off to a good start with the three points, but more than that I hope we will get our pattern back,” added the midfielder and 2008 Beijing Olympian.

Smith said players in Europe have been playing different systems.

“We are hoping to get back to the South African style and make effective connections.

“Brazil are the first step to the final; it’s really just one step at a time.”

South African head coach Gregg Clark said that apart from winning the match, he was interested in how the players performed as a unit against a team that was largely an unknown quantity internationally.

The coach said: “This match is very much about setting our own standards, focusing on our game, regardless of what we are going to come up against.”

At number 42 in the world, Brazil are the lowest-ranked team, while at 12th the men in green and gold are favoured to earn the sole ticket to London.

“I don’t think Brazil’s ranking is accurate with where they are at the moment,” said Clark.

“I think they have improved a lot because they have been playing a lot of international hockey recently.”

Brazil are hosting the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and hockey is a new focus for their Olympic governing body.

Clark is looking inward.

“It’s just about us, and making sure we get our standard of play to a level of performance that we are comfortable with.

“On any given day we have match-winners, several guys who are capable of putting in match-winning performances, but it’s really just about us gelling as a team, getting some cohesion and coming off the pitch happy as a group with the way we performed,” said the SA boss.

After Brazil, South Africa have a rest day tomorrow before tackling the Czech Republic on Saturday at 3 am South African time.

SOUTH AFRICA SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng), Michael Smith (Witwatersrand).

Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern Blues), Lance Louw (SG), Lloyd Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Rhett Halkett (NB).

Midfielders: Jonty Robinson (NB), Clinton Panther (SG), Austin Smith (capt, WP), Tim Drummond (KCR), Wade Paton (KCR), Taine Paton (KCR).

Strikers: Ian Haley (WP), Marvin Harper (KCR), Lloyd Norris-Jones (WP), Julian Hykes (Amathole-Border), Thornton McDade (SG).

SA MATCH PROGRAMME

April 26: vs Brazil (11.30 am SA time); April 28: vs Czech Republic (3 am SA time); April 30: vs China (11.30 am SA time); May 2: vs Japan (9 am SA time); May 4: vs Austria (11.30 am SA time); May 6: Classification matches (5/6 places); (3/4 places); final (8 am SA time).

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