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Hockey’s final mission

It’s now or never for our men’s hockey side as they get their Olympic Qualifier Tournament underway against Brazil in Japan on Thursday.

The match gets underway at 11.30am South African time at the Gifu Green Stadium. And if Gregg Clark’s men want the green light to join Team South Africa at the Olympics in London later this year they have to win this tournament ÔÇô there’s no other route to the Games.

The South African men’s hockey team have looked razor-sharp at training and are geared up to face 42nd ranked Brazil but in a late tester, they face the prospect of playing their opening match in heavy rain.

Wet-weather conditions are a great leveller, which will suit Brazil, the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, while top seeds South Africa prefer a fast-paced pitch that is conducive to their high-octane, free-flowing game.

Head coach Gregg Clark says the team would stick to basics. “Making sure of your passes, accuracy and discipline are especially important if the conditions remain like this and I am confident the players have the skill and experience to adapt accordingly.”

Clark said he is looking for a cohesive performance against the competition’s lowest-ranked team. ÔÇ£It’s about us gelling as a team and coming off the pitch happy with the way we performed,ÔÇØ said the SA mentor.

Captain Austin Smith is anticipating Thursday’s clash with relish. ÔÇ£Everyone’s really excited to get going, feeling a bit better, a bit sharper now,ÔÇØ said the Beijing 2008 Olympian. ÔÇ£The guys who came in [Monday night] from Europe have recovered from a bit of jet-lag, the guys who’ve been here close to a week are looking good and everyone’s looking forward to it.ÔÇØ
Wednesday was the first practice with all the team together, both the SA-based and European club-based players, and the focus was to some degree on set-pieces, both attacking and defensive penalty corners.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£We are looking to get off to a good start with the three points but more than that I hope we will get our pattern back,ÔÇØ said Smith.

The Den Bosch, Holland midfielder said the players in Europe have been playing different systems. ÔÇ£We are hoping to get back to the South African style and make effective connections. Brazil is the first step to the final; it’s really just one step at a time.ÔÇØ

Clark also said that apart from winning the match, he was interested in how the players perform as a unit against a team that is largely an unknown quantity on the international circuit. ÔÇ£This match is very much about setting our own standards, focusing on our game, regardless of what we are going to come up against,ÔÇØ said Clark.
As far as Brazil’s low status on world hockey’s pecking order Clark is not taking it any easier: ÔÇ£I don’t think Brazil’s ranking is accurate with where they are at the moment,ÔÇØ said Clark. ÔÇ£I think they have improved a lot because they have been playing a lot of international hockey recently.ÔÇØ
Brazil are hosting the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and hockey is a new focus for their Olympic governing body. So Clark is looking inward. ÔÇ£It’s just about us, and making sure we get our standard of play to a level of performance that we are comfortable with,ÔÇØ said the SA boss.
ÔÇ£On any given day we have match-winners, several guys who are capable of putting in match-winning performances, but it’s really just about us gelling as a team, getting some cohesion ┬áand coming off the pitch happy as a group with the way we performed.ÔÇØÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿After Brazil, SA have a rest day on Friday before tackling the Czech Republic on Saturday at 3am SA time.
SA MATCH PROGRAMMEÔÇ¿

April 26: vs Brazil (11.30am SA time); April 28: vs Czech Republic (3am SA time); April 30: vs China (11.30am SA time); May 2: vs Japan (9 m SA time); May 4: vs Austria (11.30am SA time); May 6: Classification matches (5/6 places); (3/4 places); final (8 am SA time).


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