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SA down Japan

South Africa’s men’s hockey side kept their quest for a berth in the Champions Challenge final, and just as importantly, a place at next year’s London Olympics, on track in Randburg on Thursday night.

Gregg Clark’s men beat Japan 3-2 in the quarter-final clash after leading 2-0 at half-time.

The first-half difference was at set-pieces where Justin Reid-Ross of Northern Blues nailed two from three while Japan wasted four.

But SA were caught napping at times and the Japanese can count themselves unlucky to not have bothered the scorekeeper.

That said, Northern Blues defender Rhett Halkett had a superb first half.

Lightning-quick Japan made a stunning start; forcing a penalty corner (PC) in the 34th second, but first wave Marvin Harper blocked the shot. Striker Harper then came close twice just minutes later and the stage was set for an epic.

SA were without defender Gareth Carr (groin) but Harper made his KZN provincial team-mate proud by initiating SA’s first ┬áPC and ace drag-flicker Reid-Ross made no mistake (1-0, ninth minute).

Japan were content to let SA move the ball around the back, waiting for the mistake that would lead to counter-attack, but SA kept probing and KZN’s superb Tim Drummond, so strong on the ball, won a PC with nine left and Reid-Ross nailed the subsequent PC past keeper Katsuya Takase for 2-0 at the half-time break.

Japan kept pressurising SA and won numerous turnovers but the men in green and gold were resolute in defence. Seven after half-time a stunning overhead gave Yuta Fukushiro the counter-attack of lifetime but Port Elizabeth-based SA keeper Brendon Botes made an equally stunning save.

SA immediately built a superb attack and the superb Reid-Ross won SA’s fourth PC, which he clattered into the backboard past a transfixed Takase for his hat-trick inside 40 minutes (3-0).

Such was the pace and intensity, the match fairly flew past and the SA defensive screen was gradually getting the better of the ever-dangerous Japan attackers. But as if a spell had been cast over the South Africans, mistakes crept in and the Japanese won their sixth PC going into the last quarter of a pulsating match.

This time Katsuyoshi Nagasawa got his drag-flick spot-on (3-1) and hardly a wink later a turnover led to Naoto Shiokawa pulling Japan closer (3-2).

With 15 minutes left, SA were hanging on to their lead by a thread and outstanding captain Austin Smith’s leadership skills were absolutely crucial as he dropped back to central defence and SA counted the match down to a euphoric final whistle.

South Africa will now meet India in Saturday’s semi-final. Belgium play Argentina in the other semi-final.


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