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Two weeks to D-Day

It’s exactly 14 days until the South Africa women’s hockey team open their account against world champs Argentina at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Saturday’s results at the Four Nations in Bremen, Germany prove that anything is possible.
On Saturday, world No16 Belgium, who SA meet in the first match on the final day of the Four Nations on Sunday afternoon, beat world No3 Germany 1-0 at Club zur Vahr before world No12 SA had the edge on No6 side New Zealand despite going down 1-0.

It is true that SA have lost their last nine matches (five official and four unofficial Test matches) since beating world number four Great Britain 3-1 at the Investec London Cup on 4 July but his includes an unlucky 1-0 defeat against Germany when the match stats pointed to an SA win, and then drawing 2-2 in the semi-finals against world number one and defending Olympic champs Holland in the London Cup semi-finals before going down 4-2 in the penalty shootout.

It must also be remembered that teams are in different phases of their plans to peak at London 2012 and due to circumstances SA head coach Giles Bonnet has chosen a different path than other top teams – with a conscious strategy that almost invited defeat as part of the process.

That aside, Belgium proved Saturday that they are a ferociously competent outfit who defend well, have good ball movement and are patient if necessary in their build-up. SA gave away too many turnovers against the Kiwis and this aspect will be key Sunday.

In Pascal Kina the Belgians have a savvy coach, recognised by Bonnet when he employed his former club colleague in Belgium as a tactical consultant during the SA squad’s training camp at University of the Free State Hockey Centre in Bloemfontein in December 2010 before his current appointment, an appointment which has drawn fruit in a transformed Belgian side.

Like every side, however, Belgium are vulnerable if a team can manipulate opposition defenders on attack and exploit the consequent space, as was evident in the Belgians’ 4-2 defeat against the Kiwis on Thursday.
New Zealand were able to utilise their strength along the right wing and around the baseline to set up many goalscoring opportunities, a number of which the Belgians survived through sheer tenacity and a fierce will to stay in the game.

This is SA’s last Test match before facing Argentina in London 2012 game one on July 29 and they will want to end off on a high, but Belgium won’t be easy meat by any stretch of the imagination.

SA arrive at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on Monday evening and transfer immediately to Olympic governing body SASCOC’s holding camp at the University of Pretoria High Performance Centre where the players will continue with specialised training set out by Bonnet until they fly to London at the end of the week with Team South Africa and settle into the Olympic Village.

SA will play two training matches against Pool A countries China, the world number five, and world nine Japan at the Riverbank Arena in Olympic Park in the build-up to meeting the Argentinians.

Belgium have proven that anything and everything is possible at London 2012 and the South Africans believe that too.


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