Hockey's final chance | SASCOC - SASCOC

Hockey’s final chance

Just 70 minutes stand between our men’s hockey side and a spot alongside their female counteparts at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Coach Gregg Clark’s men drew 2-2 with Austria on Friday but that result was only of academic interest as the men in green and gold knew before the match that they will face host nation Japan in Sunday’s 8am SA time Olympic Qualifier Tournament final at the Gifu Green Stadium in Kikamigahara anyway. The winners will head off to London for the Games.

Jon Cook reports that Japan also laboured to a 3-2 win over China but coach Keon Wook Kang, a Korean, said afterwards that his team’s preparations and time spent together over the last 12 months all came down to Sunday’s 70 minutes.

The match will be televised live on SuperSport 6 and if Kang’s words are anything to go by, the South Africans are in for the mother of all, battles. ÔÇ£The people of Japan can be assured that the Japanese team will put their body, soul and spirit into winning this final. South Africa are a good team but I am confident that we will win.ÔÇØ

SA captain Austin Smith said South Africans are committed people and he was positive the team have the ability to get the result they need.
If the thrill-a-minute 3-3 draw in the league match between South Africa and Japan on Wednesday is anything to go by, then this final could go either way.

SA beat Japan 3-2 at the Champions Challenge in Randburg last November after leading 3-0 at half-time so there is very little to choose between the two teams.

Indeed, SA assistant coach Kurt Cerfontyne said the Japanese are 25% better than they were at Champs Challenge, while the men in green and gold have also made progress since.

SA head coach Gregg Clark said Justin Reid-Ross, the team’s major penalty corner weapon, had been rested as a precaution against Austria. ÔÇ£In Just we have a world-class corner flicker while Austin’s two goals against Austria show that we have other assets at the set-pieces as well.ÔÇØ

Clark said the SA forwards are winning penalty corner opportunities for the corner flickers as well as getting in shots in field play, while the midfield has been impressive in breaking the line┬á and reading the game.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£We gave away two soft corner goals against Japan on Wednesday but we are confident in our structures, it’s just a case of getting the small details right at times.ÔÇØ

As to the speed of the Japanese frontrunners? ÔÇ£Yes, they are very quick and counter-attack well and run good angles, but our strength is that we move the ball well, retain possession well, so it comes down to decision making; calling the right time to put the ball at risk or not.ÔÇØ

Midway through the first half Friday SA were within the width of a stick of opening the scoring when Thornton McDade followed up a penalty corner only to see his effort strike the post.

Austria immediately responded with a controversial PC goal by impressive drag-flicker Michael Korper (1-0). ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿SA pressed hard but the half-time whistle came with the Europeans 1-0 up.

After the changeover Smith equalised when he made no mistake from a PC before a deflection goal by Georg Jelinek put Austria 2-1 up with 14 minutes left, until Smith breached the Austria keeper’s defence for the second time five minutes from the final whistle.

The SA fans can expect a far better showing when they take on Japan in the quest for the last ticket on offer for London 2012.

Sunday’s men’s classification matches will all be live on SuperSport 6 from 3am. The fifth/sixth place playoff between Czech Republic and Brazil is at 3am and the bronze medal match between China and Austria at 5.30am.

FINAL MEN’S LOG (played 5): 1 Japan 13 points (goal difference 21); 2 South Africa 11 points (GD 17); 3 China 9 points (GD 6); 4 Austria 7 points (GD -1); 5 Czech Republic 3 points (GD -7); 6 Brazil 0 points (GD -36).

South Africa’s results/fixtures thus far: SA 11 Brazil 1; SA 6 Czech Republic 2; SA 5 China 2; SA 3 Japan 3; SA 2 Austria 2; May 6 (SA vs Japan final live on SuperSport 6 at 8am SA time).