SA get their ticket to London

2012-05-07 00:00

THE South Africa men’s hockey team beat host nation Japan 2-1 after the scores were locked 0-0 at half-time in the Olympic Qualifier Tournament’s sell-out final at Gifu Green Stadium yesterday.

The prize was the last ticket still on offer for the London 2012 Olympic Games men’s hockey event, and a stunning field goal from Thornton McDade plus a coolly taken effort by Lloyd Norris-Jones proved the difference in an emotion-charged title match. Kenji Kitazato netted for the Japanese.

After patient build-up Marvin Harper got in the first shot of the final in the third minute, but Japan goalkeeper Shunsuke Nagoya saved well. At the other end Rassie Pieterse timed his advance perfectly to block Hiroki Sakamoto’s shot.

Umpires David Gentles (Australia) and Jed Curran (Scotland) are experienced in these high-pressure matches and the teams were in good hands, but in the 11th minute Japan were awarded a penalty corner that SA disputed. The decision stood as SA did not opt to use the one video referral allowed — and Pieterse saved to his right from Katsuyoshi Nagasawa.

Midway, Lloyd Madsen’s long ball down the right found Julian Hykes whose strong cross let Wade Paton in for a snap shot that went just wide. Towards half time Japan pressed hard, but the threat was negated and Tim Drummond forced a quality low save to goalkeeper Nagaoka’s right once the momentum shifted.

Then the sheer pace of Norris-Jones earned SA’s first PC with exactly five minutes to the break and a variation to the third castle saw Andrew Cronje win another. SA went back to the more regular double castle and Justin Reid-Ross’s drag-flick was gloved away by the keeper.

Soon after the changeover SA had two excellent opportunities to turn possession into goal shots, but the final passes went astray and a breakout from deep saw Japan striker Kenta Tanaka come agonisingly close to opening the scoring. A four-man move some time later was again a tense moment, but Pieterse was on hand to block. Seconds later striker McDade, at 31 the “old man” of the side, found space on the right and opened the scoring after a dazzling piece of stickwork in close confines that wrong-footed the keeper (1-0).

With 20 left SA had a stunning chance to go two goals clear, but Japan emerged intact from the goalmouth scramble and at the other end Japan won their second PC when Gentles ruled SA had infringed in the 23 m area. Then SA lost another defender when Jonty Robinson, the first wave, was adjudged to have broken too early, but the danger turned into opportunity and soon Norris-Jones made it 2-0 with a clinical finish.

With 16 minutes to the final whistle Japan were still in it, as their lightning-quick forwards are capable of scoring two or three goals in no time, but the SA tackling continued in impeccable vein, and Ian Haley’s chance to make it three was then thwarted by the in-form Nagaoka. Gentles awarded Japan a PC, but SA captain Austin Smith opted to use his team’s one video referral — a wise choice.

However, Japan got their third PC a few plays later, then a fourth, and a fifth. SA survived and Pieterse then made a great save from field play, but Japan’s Kenji Kitazato pulled one back eventually with six minutes left on the clock (2-1). With three minutes left McDade broke free and fed Norris-Jones, whose shot was saved by the advancing Nagaoka.

With 98 seconds left Japan subbed their keeper with a field player and the outstanding Pieterse made a brilliant save shortly after. It was agony for the few SA supporters at the ground as the seconds crawled by, but finally it was over and SA had booked the last ticket to London.

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