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Testing World Cup clashes await SA
- Updated: June 8, 2014
It’s another big day for South African hockey at the World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands on Sunday.
The men’s team, who were outstanding yet desperately unlucky not to beat world No7 South Korea in Friday’s exciting but goalless draw, face another massive World Cup challenge when they tackle home side Holland on Sunday evening, writes Jon Cook.
They’ll be faced by a seething cauldron of a rocking, chanting, singing capacity crowd dressed in orange at the superb Kyocera Stadium.
The host nation are overwhelming favourites to maintain their majestic unbeaten run in front of adoring fans, yet in London 2012 Olympians Lloyd Norris-Jones (pictured right against South Korea), Julian Hykes, Jonty Robinson, goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse, Justin Reid-Ross, Rhett Halkett, the Paton brothers, Wade and Taine, Lloyd Madsen, Tim Drummond, Clint Panther and double Olympians, captain Austin Smith and Lungi Tsolekile, SA have a squad of players who are familiar with the big stage and hostile territory.
The SA defence will have to concentrate for the full 70 minutes if soft goals are not to be leaked against The Oranje, who have a host of stars in players of the calibre of Billy Bakker and penalty corner drag-flicker Mink van der Weerden.
This match, live on SuperSport (7.45pm), promises to test whether Smith’s lads ÔÇô ranked 12th in the world ÔÇô can build momentum and consistency on the toughest stage of all. Avoiding sixth and last place in Group B is a priority and there should be no motivation problems for the African continent’s champions.
Consistency is king amongst the world’s best and exactly the same principles apply to the Investec SA women’s hockey team.
It was a “wow” moment for dynamic SA striker Sulette Damons on Friday when her 150th Test match cap came alongside the girls in green and gold’s first ever defeat of world number three England at one of hockey’s Majors.
Damons made up for her hamstring-enforced absence from the opening two World Cup games with a searing performance that included the most stunning of goals in SA’s runaway 4-1 victory.
South Africa’s triumph saw superb strikes from Kathleen Taylor, the fleet-footed Damons, Shelley Russell and Dirkie Chamberlain ÔÇô and was constructed around the ultimate team performance where every player made a telling contribution.
The magnitude of the win left the hapless English huddled in the dugout in tears afterwards.
South Africa’s world record goalscorer and talismanic striker Pietie Coetzee (35) came in at the 11th hour in the final days leading up to World Cup 2014 in place of the unfortunate double Olympian SA defender Lenise Marais whose serious leg injury made participation impossible.
And Coetzee was in top form in the unfamiliar position of right half and her experience of scoring a scarcely believable 280 goals in 284 Test matches has undoubtedly rubbed off on her younger team-mates in recent years.
But what’s done is done, the England drubbing a cherished memory, and now is the time for world No11 SA to take on, and beat, No7 side China in Sunday’s 5.30pm bust-up that’s also live on SuperSport.
Celebrated SA captain Marsha Cox was magnificent in the leadership role, both verbally and by example, and every ounce of her 335 Test match experience came into play against an England side that arrived at the tournament, with reason, gunning directly for the gold medal.
Like head coach Fabian Gregory and the SA men’s trainers, Giles Bonnet and his coaching staff are meticulous planners and as with England they will have devised a plan to outwit the technically superb yet somewhat robotic Chinese, whose captain Jiao-Jiao De is the lynchpin.
The SA women are now in with a chance of finishing third in Group B and with that comes the opportunity to end fifth in the World Cup placings for the first time in the country’s history.
Sunday is a big ask for both SA teams but on Friday’s evidence the questions can be answered.
Picture: Stanislas Brochier