[img_assist|nid=3570|title=China in their hand|desc=SA defender Lloyd Madsen (far left) hugs goalscorer Justin Reid-Ross (25) as Tim Drummond joins – STANISLAS BROCHIER|link=node|align=right|width=180|height=120]Kakamigahara, Japan: The South Africa men’s hockey team put together a near-faultless first half performance to beat China 5-2 in the key Olympic Qualifier Tournament match after leading 3-0 at the break in Kakamigahara, Japan Monday.
The result sets up the most tantalising of contests at 9 am SA time Wednesday when SA meet log-leaders Japan.
It was the most comprehensive of performances in the opening half, yet the scoreline could be considered somewhat flattering in the end as SA goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse made a number of tip-top saves while the green-and-gold side’s finishing was razor sharp.
SA controlled possession and made all the play from the outset while China appeared set on waiting to pounce on a turnover.
The shadow boxing between two well-structured, unbeaten teams continued until the first shot in anger was fired by SA striker Thornton McDade in the 13th minute but Chinese keeper Rifeng Su glove-saved well.
SA’s game of patience paid off after 17 minutes when Lloyd Madsen’s long ball found McDade, whose layoff to Taine Paton set up the first penalty corner, a textbook set-piece that saw drag-flick king Justin Reid Ross take his tournament goal tally to seven (1-0).
Just three minutes later SA broke out of deep defence and McDade and Lloyd Norris-Jones made the initial plays for fellow strike partner Ian Haley to slam into the backboard (2-0).
China striker Na Yubo was irate when he was not awarded a PC and the dangerous target man was just wide of post with a deflection effort soon after.
SA’s Jonty Robinson, Reid-Ross and Rhett Halkett made timely interventions to get their team out of trouble as the Chinese began putting passes together and at the other end Paton combined with Marvin Harper to give the men in yellow and red another heart-stopping moment.
The three-goal cushion had to come and Reid-Ross gave Norris-Jones a pass under the arm for the striker’s first-time slap shot to crash into the corner of Rifeng’s goals (3-0).
With seconds to half-time China won a hotly disputed PC and Andrew Cronje saved on the goalline.
The second half saw a determined China come out looking to close the gap and Xiantang Lu could not believe Pieterse’s save after he only had the keeper to beat. At the other end McDade and Harper came agonisingly to increasing the goal margin.
With 20-odd minutes left Julian Hykes made life difficult for China’s defenders and Jonty Robinson picked up the leftovers to finish superbly (4-0). But hardly a minute later the never-say-die Yubo pulled one back (4-1).
Then Taine Paton and Hykes got together before Robinson bagged his brace (5-1). Haley nearly made it six for SA but at the other end Pieterse made a stunning triple save high and low from a Chinese PC, and then another top-end glove save shortly after.
China pressed very hard to reduce the tally but SA defended superbly, although Xiaxan Lu finally found the net past the outstanding Pieterse from a PC seconds from the end (5-2).
LOQ in brief (all played 3 unless stated): 1 Japan 9 points (goal difference 20); 2 South Africa 9 points (GD 17); 3 China 6 points (GD 6); 4 Austria 3 points (GD -3); 5 Czech Republic 0 points (GD -11); 6 Brazil 0 points (GD -29).
SA MATCH PROGRAMME/RESULTS
April 26: South Africa 11 Brazil 1; April 28: South Africa 6 Czech Republic 2; April 30: SA 5 China 2; 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).
Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng).
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), 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).
Rested: Michael Smith (Witwatersrand), Clinton Panther (SG).