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Weakened SA hockey side go down to Pakistan

The South Africa men’s hockey team were victims of six minutes of mayhem that transformed Sunday’s game against Pakistan and dashed their hopes of finishing seventh at the World League tournament in Johor, Malaysia.

After a great first half in which they dominated territory and possession, despite trailing 1-0 at the break, SA were hit by field goals from Pakistan’s Muhammad Rizwan Snr, Aamir Shazad and Abdul Haseem Khan between the 37th and 42nd minutes and in the blink of an eye the Africans were four goals behind and went on to lose 6-2, writes Jon Cook.

Essentially it was game over as Pakistan were now revitalised, the momentum had well and truly shifted in their favour and the world’s fifth-ranked nation were unlikely to concede four or five goals from that point, SA now chasing the game and taking the attacking risks that go with that parlous position.

The first-half goal came from Muhammad Waqas via the penalty corner route in the 22nd minute ÔÇô against the run of play in a hesitant Pakistan first half in the face of a confident, attacking performance by SA that wasn’t turned into goals, especially in the first 15 minutes.

Following the three-goal whammy in six minutes after the changeover, Abbas Haider Billgrami made it 5-0 in the 53rd minute with a well-taken backhand before SA had a great spell that realised two fantastic goals inside three minutes.

Both goals were the product of the potential this SA team have if given the same opportunities as the other countries in the world’s top 20 men’s hockey nations.

The first saw a diagonal ball from left to right by Miguel da Graca into the strike zone that was superbly deflected into the goal by a diving Tim Drummond at full stretch. That 62nd minute effort was followed hardly two minutes later when Clint Panther’s long ball found Drummond, whose pass into the strike zone connected with Lloyd Norris-Jones on the half-volley that gave Imran Butt no chance in goal.

But then Haseem made it 6-2 four minutes from the end.

World No12’s SA were also playing two men short ÔÇô key men in captain and playmaker Austin Smith and midfielder Jonty Robinson, both in hospital with Dengue Fever, the mosquito-borne virus. Smith missed the last three games, played over four days of intense heat and humidity, and Robinson the last two-and-a-half. Given that final placement positions rested on the outcome of each match, it is remarkable that the 14 remaining SA field players were able to put up such a brave fight against teams that had two extra rolling substitutes on each occasion.

It was a fast-paced match with thrills and spills aplenty in each goalmouth and both number one goalkeepers, Butt of Pakistan and South Africa’s Rassie Pieterse, pulled off memorable saves, as did Pieterse’s understudy, Gowan Jones, who played in the last 21 minutes. There were also superb defensive tackles, SA’s Lance Louw just one player who caught the attention.

Vice-captain Rhett Halkett led the side for the third consecutive match and the commitment of the South Africans was again remarkable, two players in particular having stormers, midfielders Drummond and Panther, but every man had moments of significance for the team.

SA have a second chance at qualifying for the 2014 World Cup if they win the Africa Cup in Nairobi, Kenya in September/October.


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