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SA U17 boys team makes final of EU Nations Cup
- Updated: April 12, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s Under-17 boys’ waterpolo team are back home after playing their way to a fine runners-up spot at last month’s EU Nations competition in Vienna, Austria.
The team, coached by KwaZulu-Natal’s Andrew Stewart but made up predominantly of Western Province players, won four of their matches before going down to Malta in the final.
The boys beat Malta 8-7 in their opening game and then went on to beat Ireland 18-3, Scotland 30-13 in the group phases before beating Wales 18-9 in the semi-final.
In the final, just as in their group game against Malta, it was nail-biting stuff with the South Africans going down 11-10.
Captain of the team was Keegan Clark, who was the team’s last line of defence between the goal posts. The Reddam House (Constantia) pupil took time to share his tournament experiences with Road to Rio 2016.
Also a former captain of the SA U16 side he said: ‘We arrived in Austria not knowing what level of competition to expect, having only played Malta once last year when we were beaten in a very close game.
‘The team vibe was good but we needed to learn how to play together quickly as the first day in Austria was the first time we were able to practice as a complete unit. The boys really put a lot of effort into creating the feeling that everybody contributes to the team and that everybody needs to perform for us to succeed. This paid off in our first group match against Malta where we were able to come back from 4-7 down in the last quarter to clinch a win 8-7.
‘That set the tone for the rest of the tournament and I was very happy to see everybody giving their all whenever we were in the water. We realised that as a side we were tough and physical with good skills but we weren’t used to the European style of refereeing.
‘We were nervous for the final because we knew that the game could go either way. We started off well but our inexperience in playing at this level took its toll and we became easily flustered and splintered in the third quarter. This resulted in us getting too many unnecessary exclusions and ultimately losing the game 11-10. We were upset about the loss because we felt we could have won the game. But we didn’t let it get in the way of our friendships and within a few minutes were celebrating our silver because we realised that second place was in fact a great achievement.
‘Overall, the hospitality was fantastic (especially the hotel staff who didn’t get upset with the South Africans clearing out their breakfast buffet every morning), the pool facilities were top class and the tournament was run in a smooth and professional manner. We were the “surprise package” of the tournament and had great support from people from all the nations (even Malta when we weren’t playing them). All our players learnt a lot and were very proud to represent South Africa.
‘As we are still Under 17 we have another year as juniors and I believe the experience we gained will stand us in good stead next year.’
The full SA squad who did duty in Austria were: Brandon Burke (WP), Hugh Bedford (WP), Christopher Beamish (WP), Joshua Faber (WP), James Hablutzel (WP), Clark (WP), Dannon Siljeur (WP), Jesse Pye (WP), Dylan Watt (WP), Sebastian Farrell (KZN), Matthew Bedderson (KZN), Daniel Lagesse (KZN), Daniel Klein (Gauteng)
Player of the final was Burke while the South Africans’ leading goalscorer was Klein (pictured above) with 14 goals followed by Christopher Beamish with 13 while Bedford Burke and Faber all netted on 11 occasions.
For an extended eye-witness account of the final against Malta, here’s what Mike Beamish, father of Christopher, and an ex top player himself had to say:
‘Whilst SA made a great start courtesy of goals by Hugh Bedford, Josh Faber and Daniel Klein, it was Keegan [pictured above] who shone again by saving two certain goals when our centreback was excluded on two separate Malta attacks.
‘Leading 3-0 at the end of the first chukka, one felt a certain sense of dread that the score line did not fairly represent the balance of play and that the match was going to be a long and difficult affair. The centre-forward from Malta played an exceptional game and soon had two goals in the net and both our centrebacks on two major fouls. Chris Beamish made the score 4 2, only to have Malta reply immediately to 4 3. Dannon Siljeur then scored a brilliant individual goal and Daniel Klein added another.
‘Leading 6-3 at half time we hoped that SA had enough of a lead to hold on for another two chukkas. However, despite Keegan’s successful efforts to save Malta’s shots, the number of our defensive exclusions was starting to take its toll.
‘With our key centre-back, James Hablutzel, permanently excluded on three major fouls and the other, Matthew Bedderson already on two majors, we faced an uphill battle to stop the Maltese attacks. A quick goal by Malta after half time made their ambitions clear and the level of physicality in the match seemed visibly to have been ratcheted up a notch.
‘Brandon Burke scored another goal for SA, but almost with a sense of de javu, Malta replied to make it 7-5. Then another SA exclusion saw Keegan get fingers to the shot but not enough to save the goal. Cracks started to appear in our defensive structure, and when a blatant push-off by the Maltese attacker was ignored by the ref, tempers flared.
‘Suddenly the match was all square at seven goals each. The pressure started to take its toll on even our seasoned players as they succumbed to frustration caused by some confusing refereeing decisions. Another questionable referee decision meant that we lost a defender to an exclusion and the goal for Malta gave them the lead for the first time in the match.
‘The SA coach called a time out as all the SA players were in need of some calming words. Inexperience at this highly intense level of international competition was proving to be the greatest challenge to the team’s composure. When play resumed, it was our turn to benefit from a Malta exclusion and Chris Beamish spotted Danon Siljeur in a great position. He passed and Danon’s quick hands flicked the ball into the net… goal!
‘With the score at eight goals each the match was poised to go either way. Both teams attacked and defended intensely for the remaining minutes. Midway through the final chukka SA made a defensive blunder which left Malta with an unmarked man in front of our goals.
‘Facing a lone attacker just 2m from the goal, Keegan Clark made the most brilliant save of the entire tournament. This gave SA the chance to attack again and, when a Malta player was excluded, Chris Beamish scored from outside the right post to reclaim the lead, 9-8. Too soon we had another man excluded and Keegan was called upon to save the shot. He saved but, unluckily, the rebound was fielded by Malta and they attacked again.
‘This time our defence crumbled and they scored from a cross pass to the wing. Hugh Bedford couldn’t control his frustration with the referee’s decision to ignore an obvious push off and was red-carded for showing dissent to the referee.
‘Again it was “Super Goalie”, Keegan, who saved us from conceding a goal. The tension in the stadium took its toll on the players and Josh Faber also earned a red Ccard for dissent. This time the referee awarded a 5m penalty against us. We seemed certain to have lost the lead as the Malta player readied himself to aim and shoot. However, against the odds, Keegan pulled off a superb effort and saved the goal.
‘With three senior plays on permanent exclusions our bench was now down to only two substitutes. During the two minutes remaining Dylan Watt worked hard on attack and was rewarded with a Malta player exclusion. A quick pass to Chris Beamish saw the shot sail into the net and there was pandemonium in the stadium. At 10 goals to 9 surely there would be a gold medal in SA’s future…
‘However, the match was far from finished. As the stadium erupted the referee’s whistle was difficult to hear and SA lost possession. Malta attacked frantically but in the heat of the moment, their pass was intercepted by Chris Beamish who passed to Daniel Klein at centre-forward. Suddenly SA had a chance to put the result beyond doubt and Daniel expertly spun his defender.
‘For a microsecond, his shot looked to have beaten both defender and goalie, but it was a cruel crossbar that denied him. This was the moment that the balance of power in the match made a dramatic shift.
‘Malta attacked immediately and, in desperation, the inexperienced SA defender was permanently excluded on his third major foul. Malta scored with 32 seconds left to play. Now the match was on a knife edge at 10 goals apiece and the SA coach called a time out.
‘From this position, SA had the advantage of one last attack, and as long as they played out their full 30 seconds before shooting, then the match would likely end in a draw. The coach looked to an empty bench and could make no substitutes, the exhausted current players would have to dig deep into their reserves.
‘High pressure play resumed and the tension was tangible. Malta aggressively marked each team member as the seconds dragged by. Desperate for the win and perhaps fearing that SA might be robbed of possession, Dylan Watt tried to score with a long shot with 16 seconds of time remaining.
‘His shot was off target. The Malta goalkeeper caught the ball with only enough time to make a long pass down the pool in an attempt to reach to an attacking Malta swimmer.
‘The pass landed equi-distant between the SA goalie and the Maltese attacker. In that split second Keegan had no choice but to charge out of his goals to try and reach the ball first. Both players streaked towards the ball and snatched at it simultaneously.
‘Then the referee blew his whistle for the most controversial decision of the match… he awarded a penalty to Malta. Keegan was so surprised that he queried the decision, and was given the same treatment as previous SA players who committed the same offence and being red-carded! This left SA to defend a 5m penalty without a goal keeper and although Dylan Watt bravely attempted to save the shot, Malta scored and the final hooter killed SA’s hopes of a gold medal.’
Pictures of Klein and Clark courtesy of Julia Finnis Bedford