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Hykes heads into 100th hockey Test as SA take on Argentina

At the foot of Group B, captain Austin Smith’s spirited South Africa men’s hockey side face yet another massive challenge when they take on second-placed Argentina on Tuesday in the teams’ last preliminary round match at World Cup 2014 in The Hague, Holland.

It is also a massive match for SA striker Julian Hykes, right, who will join Rhett Halkett and Wade Paton in notching up his 100th Test match at this four-yearly showpiece of the game.

East London-born Hykes, a man with fearsome pace when in possession, has ÔÇô like the rest of the SA forwards ÔÇô not hit his straps yet and will be going all out to make this a match to cherish. The right-handed batsman and fast-medium bowler played two first-class cricket matches for Border and knows full well what hitting the sweet spot means, whether it be wielding the willow or a carbon-fibre hockey stick.

The men from the Pampas, or Los Leones (The Lions) as Argentina are called at home, will make certain of a semi-final berth if they beat SA while the African champions need at least a draw ÔÇô and will then hope against hope that double Olympic champs Germany beat South Korea in the following match in order for Smith’s lads to play for ninth spot on Saturday instead of the wooden spoon 11th/12th clash on Thursday.

Indeed, if SA draw with Argentina, and Germany beat Korea, the South Americans will be blown out of the semi-finals at the expense of the Germans. But everything depends on SA drawing or beating Argentina, so it’s a massive, massive match.

Reflecting on the 7-1 defeat by the fabulous Holland side on Sunday night, Smith expressed his appreciation for the crowd’s fair play. ÔÇ£The Dutch hockey public are very knowledgeable and also cheer on the opposition. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my career,ÔÇØ said Smith.

ÔÇ£It was a special feeling. I play against their players in the Hoofdklasse [Dutch Premier League] but playing against all 18 of them at one time is very, very tough. When you are playing against a team who were more skilled and quicker, it is not easyÔÇØ

Head coach Fabian Gregory said the SA players brought a lot of energy to the Dutch match and is expecting the same against the Argentines, but while praising his charges for their legwork expressed discontent with the unnecessary mistakes.

ÔÇ£Too many errors individually, and the turnover moments, killed us,ÔÇØ the SA mentor said.

If the SA men can clean that up, they will have more possession with which to do the Argentines damage.

Meanwhile, the Investec SA women’s team were desperately unfortunate to be shaded 4-3 by world number seven China in their Group B match on Sunday in a match where unforced basic errors were punished with relish by the nippy Asians. SA goalscoring opportunities were squandered, too.

There are lies, damned lies and then come statistics, but in this case the numbers tell a story of what might have been. SA had a massive advantage of 21 entries into the strike zone to China’s eight and 13 shots at goal to China’s seven; the difference was that the winners were on target 85% of the time to SA’s 46%. SA had seven penalty corners to the Asians’ five; the difference was that China scored two for an efficiency rate of 40% to SA’s lone goal and a success rate of 14%. Enough said.

Bottom-placed world number three England face a hurting Germany on Tuesday, immediately after the tournament’s revelation, 10th-ranked USA, who top Group B, face South Africa.

SA need at least to draw with the Americans to force England out of the battle for fifth place.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Head coach Giles Bonnet’s SA girls beat the Champions Challenge winners USA 2-1 in a preliminary round match at that tournament in Glasgow just a month ago. So there is no doubt that SA can do it. Providing they bring their A game to the turf.

Picture: Stanislas Brochier


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