SA hockey men face mother of all battles in final against Japan

2012-05-05 00:00

THE South Africa men’s hockey team drew 2-2 with Austria yesterday — a result of only academic interest to the men in green and gold who knew before the match that they would face host nation Japan in tomorrow’s Olympic Qualifier Tournament final at Gifu Green Stadium anyway.

Japan laboured to a 3-2 win over China, but there coach Keon Wook Kang, a Korean, said afterwards that his team’s preparations and time spent together over the last 12 months all came down tomorrow’s 70 minutes.

The match, at 8 am SA time, will be televised live on SuperSport 6 and if Kang’s words are anything to go by, the South Africans are in for the mother of all battles: “The people of Japan can be assured that the Japanese team will put their body, soul and spirit into winning this final. South Africa are a good team but I am confident that we will win.”

SA captain Austin Smith said South Africans were committed people and he was positive the team have the ability to get the result they needed. If the thrill-a-minute 3-3 draw in the league match between South Africa and Japan on Wednesday is anything to go by, then this final could go either way.

SA beat Japan 3-2 at the Champions Challenge in Randburg last November after leading 3-0 at half-time so there is very little to choose between the two teams. Indeed, SA assistant coach Kurt Cerfontyne said the Japanese were 25% better than they were at Champs Challenge, while the men in green and gold had also made progress since.

SA head coach Gregg Clark said Justin Reid-Ross, the team’s major penalty corner weapon, had been rested as a precaution against Austria. “In Justin we have a world-class corner flicker while Austin’s two goals against Austria show that we have other assets at the set-pieces as well.”

Clark said the SA forwards were winning penalty corner opportunities for the corner flickers as well as getting in shots in field play, while the midfield had been impressive in breaking the line and reading the game. “We gave away two soft corner goals against Japan on Wednesday, but we are confident in our structures, it’s just a case of getting the small details right at times.”

As for the speed of the Japanese frontrunners, Clark said: “Yes, they are very quick and counter-attack well and run good angles, but our strength is that we move the ball well, retain possession well, so it comes down to decision making; calling the right time to put the ball at risk or not.”

Midway through the first half yesterday SA were within the width of a stick of opening the scoring when Thornton McDade followed up a penalty corner only to see his effort strike the post. Austria immediately responded with a controversial PC goal by impressive drag-flicker Michael Korper (1-0).

SA pressed hard but the half-time whistle came with the Europeans 1-0 up.

After the changeover Smith equalised when he made no mistake from a PC before a deflection goal by Georg Jelinek put Austria 2-1 up with 14 minutes left, until Smith breached the Austria keeper’s defence for the second time five minutes from the final whistle.

The SA fans can expect a far better showing when they take on Japan in the quest for the last ticket on offer for London 2012.

Tomorrow’s men’s classification matches will all be live on SuperSport 6 from 3 am. The fifth/sixth place play-off between Czech Republic and Brazil is at 3 am and the bronze medal match between China and Austria at 5.30 am.

Japan meet Azerbaijan in the women’s final at 8 am SA time today.

The match is live on SuperSport 6, as are the other women’s play-off matches. The fifth/sixth place play-off between Malaysia is at 3 am and the Chile/Belarus bronze medal match is at 5.30 am.

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