Cape Town - The odds were stacked against the SA Hockey men's team as they took on world No 3 Belgium and lost 5-1 to bow out of the Men's World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
According to the Team SA website, having never beaten Belgium in their competitive matches before, Team SA could not have asked for a better start when Rhett Halkett set up Nic Spooner after just 35 seconds, who fired home an early advantage.
That lead was short-lived as Belgium took charge of the pitch. Even though both teams enjoyed equal possession, Belgium landed three penalty corners, securing four goals in the first half.
Alexander Hendrickx was the in-form penalty corner specialist for Belgium and his two goals in the first half sandwiched a neatly taken field goal by Player of the Match Simon Gougnard. A fourth goal was added when Loick Luypaert also showed his prowess from the top of the circle, gaining a clear lead on the scoreboard.
Team SA produced two outstanding opportunities, however Julian Hykes and Dayaan Cassiem both failed to capitalise on the space they were afforded. Belgium continued to seek chances as they managed to maintain their goal difference in order to take the top spot in the pool.
Belgium's final score of 5-1, coupled with India's 5-1 victory against Canada, meant that the host team took top spot and advanced to the quarter-finals. Canada joined Belgium in the cross-overs simply by having a better goal difference than South Africa.
There were signs of improvement for the SA hockey men's in the tournament, with some new young players receiving new opportunities to play on an international stage. However, there is much work for the team to try and bridge the gap to other countries.
Although Team SA defended well in their final match against Belgium, their journey has come to an end.
Team SA will shortly return to India for the Olympic Qualifying tournament, Hockey Series finals in July 2019.
Group C final standings (goal difference in brackets):
1. India 7 points (+9) - Progress to Quarter-finals
2. Belgium 7 points (+5) - Progress to Cross-overs
3. Canada 1 point (-5) - Progress to Cross-overs
4. South Africa 1 point (-9) - eliminated