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South Africa confident ahead of China match

[img_assist|nid=3565|title=Keeper|desc=South Africa goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse at training in the Gigu Green Stadium in Kakamigahara, Japan Sunday – KOUICHI TAKAMORI|link=none|align=right|width=180|height=120]Kakamigahara, Japan: The unbeaten South Africa men’s hockey team might have conceded three soft goals in their opening Olympic Qualifier Tournament matches here but assistant coach Kurt Cerfontyne backs his boys ahead of the crunch clash with unbeaten China at 11.30 am (SA time) Monday.

SA beat Brazil 11-1 and Czech Republic 6-2 but the two fields goal that went over keeper Rassie Pieterse’s line against the Czechs and the penalty corner past Michael Smith against Brazil were disappointing – and not necessarily because of mistakes the goalkeepers might have made.

“Yes, we did concede two soft field goals against the Czechs – that can happen – but our defensive penalty corners were really good and Rassie made a world-class save when the Czechs used a penalty corner variation,” said Cerfontyne before the final practice Sunday.

And SA’s defensive corner play will be put to the test by China, who have a very good set-piece. “China put a lot into this tournament in the build-up, as we all did, but it’s interesting how much space they have been given on the ball by their opponents here, and we back ourselves 100% against them,” said Cerfontyne.

SA captain Austin Smith backs his team’s defensive structure as well, “as long as we keep control I don’t see us conceding too many goals,” he said after the Czech match.

China also play a free-flowing style like SA and the match promises to be the most entertaining of the tournament. On Wednesday SA meet their biggest threat for an Olympic Games place, Japan, but as Smith said, “it’s the old cliché, one game at a time, no one can afford to look ahead much further than that.”

The match can be followed on Twitter @ FIH_Hockey from 11.30 am (SA time).

SOUTH AFRICA
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 MATCH PROGRAMME/RESULTS
April 26: South Africa 11 Brazil 1; April 28: South Africa 6 Czech Republic 2; 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).

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