SA off to winning start | SASCOC - SASCOC

SA off to winning start

South Africa put together a high-quality performance to beat a game but outclassed Poland 3-1 after leading 2-0 at half-time on day one of the Champions Challenge tournament at Randburg Hockey Stadium Saturday evening.

SA scored through two brilliantly taken penalty corner drag-flicks in each half by Justin Reid-Ross of Northerns Blues with a field goal going to outstanding Western Province striker Lloyd Norris-Jones.

It was the strangest of matches as SA created dozens of golden scoring opportunities but somehow the ball stayed out, not least because of a stunning display of goalkeeping by Mariusz Chyla.

Superb build-up in the second minute, the ball going through seven sticks, brought SA’s first penalty corner and Reid-Ross made perfect use of the textbook push-out and trap to rifle his drag-flick into the roof of the net (1-0).

SA were putting the Poland defence under enormous pressure and Taine Paton came within inches of making it two when keeper Chyla somehow got in the way

South Africa were relaying the ball with ingenuity and precision with 12 minutes left Taine Paton probably had too much space and he mistimed his slap-shot with the keeper to beat.

Poland finally brought a save from SA keeper Brendon Botes after 26 minutes and it would have been a travesty of justice had a penalty stroke decision not been overturned a little later.

With five left Clint Panther won the ball, fed a quick pass duplicated by Thornton McDade and the upshot was the Norris-Jones goal.

Poland started the second half strongly but Botes was up for the challenge while at the other end SA continued to keep the superb Chyla exceptionally busy, with the outstanding Norris-Jones in particular wondering what more he needed to do. However, on the few times the Poles got away, they were winning the odd penalty corner and Artur Mikula pulled the score back to 2-1.

SA defender Lloyd Madsen was stringing together some defence-splitting passes but still the side were only separated by one goal as the match reached the final quarter

It was ironic, given their dominance, that SA only got their second penalty corner with 12 left, and even more ironic that Reid-Ross’s screamer hit the crossbar. A minute later he opted to go low and the sound of the ball slamming into the backboard drew a massive punch in the air from the South African kingpin (3-1).

Yet Poland were still winning corners on the rare occasions they penetrated the SA circle and post man Tim Drummond stopped one on the line. SA pressured the Poles to the end and frustration was evident in the fact they had not made the winning margin even more.

Sunday sees the mouthwatering match between South Africa and eight-time Olympic gold medallists India at 5pm, a real test for the South Africans against the stickwork wizards.

In the earlier matches, underdogs Japan drew 2-2 with tournament favourites Argentina, India were unfortunate when Belgium equalised with 26 second left to draw 3-3 and Canada beat Malaysia 3-1.

Canada 3 Malaysia 1; Argentina 2 Japan 2; India 3 Belgium 3, SA 3 Poland 1.
11am: Argentina vs Canada
1pm: Malaysia vs Japan
3pm: Belgium vs Poland
5pm: South Africa vs India