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SA men go down to China in semi-final

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The national men’s hockey team went down 2-0 to China in the semi-finals of the Greenfields FIH World League Round 2 tournament at Hartleyvale, Cape Town on Saturday after trailing 1-0 at half-time.
Goals from Yixian Liu in the 24th minute off a penalty corner and Long Sun’s stunner from field play in the 52nd launched China into Sunday’s afternoon final against France, who had a flattering 5-2 win over Egypt.
SA had their fair share of chances but it was not to be. All is not lost though as the top three finishers at Hartleyvale advance to World League Round 3 (the semi-final phase of this lengthy competition) and if SA can win Sunday’s bronze medal match against a strong Egypt team they still go through.
Last Saturday, eventual Pool A winners SA had beaten third-place finishers China 4-3 on a penalty shootout after the scores were locked 4-4 at full-time seven days later it was a close contest once again.
There was a great chance for SA to go ahead in the sixth minute when the men in green and gold worked the ball along the left baseline but Taine Paton’s effort was blocked by alert keeper Rui Xu. Three minutes later China worked it round the right but the opportunity was blocked.
Two minutes into the second quarter SA striker Pierre de Voux did well to get in a shot but it sizzled past the far post. Soon after, a Dan Sibbald run and layoff saw Paton again agonisingly close.
Both sets of defenders were kept busy and some nifty out-letting got each team out of trouble on more than one occasion. China won the first penalty corner in the 24th minute and the slip-pass left saw receiver Liu flash his drag-flick high into the net (1-0).
Two more PCs followed soon after and the second saw Liu’s effort fly over the crossbar. SA had opportunities but the teams went into half-time with China still 1-0 up.
A determined SA won a PC seconds into the second half but captain Austin Smith’s low drag-flick was turned off the goal-line by China captain Tianjun Sun. SA put together a superb five-player move instigated by Rhett Halkett’s tackle in deep defence before keeper Rassie Pieterse made a stunning triple save minutes later.
In the 40th Clint Panther made ground before unleashing a pile-driver that shaded the wrong side of the post. Young Maties defender Daniel Bell had a good third chukka, launching attacking passes and fulfilling his traditional role, but the score remained unchanged going into the last chukka.
SA continued pressing hard but China stole away up the right and Long Sun’s superb strike made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Julian Hykes won a PC with 90 seconds left after Smith had instigated an attack from deep.
It led to another PC and captain Tianjun Sun was sin-binned for dissent but Smith’s drag-flick went wide and minutes later the final whistle blew.

Picture of Keenan Horne in action, courtesy of Matt Withers, ACTION PIX


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