[img_assist|nid=3452|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=100]The first contingent of the South Africa men’s hockey team that has arrived in Kakamigahara, Japan for the Olympic Qualifier Tournament took an immediate liking to the playing surface after two light practices Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s a smooth, fast surface that suits our style of play,” said SA head coach Gregg Clark. “The smooth surface allows us to be accurate and efficient with our technical skills and the pace of the pitch suits our ball movement.”
SA must win the tournament that takes place from April 26 to May 6 in order to clinch the last berth available for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
With the arrival of Exeter’s Ian Haley late Friday night, the England-based striker joined the 10 South African-based players who had flown out of Johannesburg on Thursday.
Clark is awaiting the arrival of the seven European-based players late Monday night to make up the full complement of his team and hopes they come through Sunday’s club matches unscathed.
SA captain Austin Smith and Rhett Halkett play for Dutch club Den Bosch in Holland this weekend as do Justin Reid-Ross and Lloyd Madsen for Pinoke (Amsterdam), while Clinton Panther and Taine Paton (both Gantoise), and Jonty Robinson (Braxgata) have important league matches in Belgium.
“We are looking to settle into a rhythm before facing the three higher-ranked teams,” said Clark, turning his attention to South Africa’s two games this week.
World number 12 South Africa tackle world 42 Brazil on Thursday at 6.30 pm (11.30 am SA time) before meeting world 23 the Czech Republic at 10 am on Saturday (3 am SA time).
“Obviously we mustn’t drop points against Brazil and Czech Republic, but games three and four are very important in order to secure our place in the May 6 final,” said Clark.
SA captain Austin Smith’s men face world number 17 China on April 30 before tackling world 15 Japan on May 2. The last match in the league round is against world 21 Austria on May 4. The top two teams from the league phase qualify for the gold medal match.
The winners will slot in alongside world number one Australia, world four Great Britain, world six Spain, world eight Pakistan and world 10 Argentina in Group A at London 2012, while Group B features Germany, Holland, Korea, New Zealand, India and Belgium. The Olympic groups are determined by the world rankings.
SA MEN’S OQT HOCKEY TEAM
Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng), Michael Smith (Witwatersrand).
Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern Blues), Lance Louw (SG), Lloyd Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Rhett Halkett (NB).
Midfielders: Jonty Robinson (NB), Clinton Panther (SG), Austin Smith (capt, WP), Tim Drummond (KCR), Wade Paton (KCR), Taine Paton (KCR).
Strikers: Ian Haley (WP), Marvin Harper (KCR), Lloyd Norris-Jones (WP), Julian Hykes (Amathole-Border), Thornton McDade (SG).
SA MEN’S MATCH PROGRAMME IN JAPAN
April 26: vs Brazil (11.30 am SA time); April 28: vs Czech Republic (3 am SA time); April 30: vs China (11.30 am SA time); May 2: vs Japan (9 am SA time); May 4: vs Austria (11.30 am SA time); May 6: Classification matches (5/6 places); (3/4 places); final (8 am SA time).