[img_assist|nid=3452|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=100]Kakamigahara, Japan: The South Africa men’s hockey team drew 3-3 with Japan in the tightest,
most nerve-jangling clashes you are ever likely to see after the scores were
locked 1-1 at half-time in their top-of-the log Olympic Qualifier Tournament
match at Gifu Green Stadium in Japan Wednesday.
Barring the most bizarre upsets in Friday’s final round, Japan and SA are now
almost certainly through to Sunday’s 8 am (SA time) final which will be
televised live on SuperSport 6 and has as its prize the last ticket left for
the men’s event at London 2012.
With 10 minutes to the break Japan won their first penalty
corner somewhat controversially, from which keeper Rassie Pieterse made a great
double save before captain Kawakami Kei pounced on the rebound (1-0). Four
minutes later Ian Haley whipped in a speculative cross and Lloyd Norris-Jones
was on hand to equalise (1-1).
Both SA’s equalisers came within minutes after Japan scoring.
In the fourth minute a Justin Reid-Ross long ball to Haley found
Marvin Harper who earned South Africa’s only PC of the half but first wave
defender Katsuyoshi Nagasawa comfortably ran down the opportunity. Pieterse in
goal made a timely intervention on the quick Japanese counter-attack before Tim
Drummond nearly decapitated the umpire with a slashing shot wide of the far
post at the other end.
SA captain Austin Smith was hugely influential in the middle while Lance Louw
made a great tackle that snuffed out a Japan counter-attack before Pieterse,
Lloyd Madsen and Norris-Jones were key in other heart-stopping moments in the SA
Wade Paton and Julian Hykes set up McDade 16 minutes from half-time but
goalkeeper Katsuya Takase narrowed the angle with slide-rule precision. With 10
minutes to the break Japan won their first PC somewhat controversially, from
which Pieterse made a great double save before captain Kawakami Kei pounced on
the rebound (1-0). Four minutes later the alert Ian Haley whipped in a
speculative cross and the ever-present Norris-Jones was on hand to scramble in
the equaliser (1-1).
Five minutes after the changeover defender Madsen did superbly to block a
golden opportunity but the Japanese won their second PC soon after Nagasawa maintained
their 100% success rate (2-1). SA combined with clockwork precision straight
from the re-start for Norris-Jones to win his team’s second PC and Reid-Ross
took his tournament tally to eight with a drag-flick rocket launcher (2-2).
A clever Hykes dummy enabled McDade’s slap shot but the nippy Kenta Tanaka
stole away to make it 3-2 midway through the second half. SA won their third PC
straight away and this time Smith whose blistering drag-flick smashed into the
cross bar and stayed out, much to the skipper’s disbelief.
Close calls came and went in both goal zones as play flew
from end to end but Taine Paton’s nifty stickwork to win SA’s third PC was
undone by keeper Takase’s glove save. Then Andrew Cronje made a superb tackle
to stem a Japanese one-two. In the last five minutes Japan were pinned in their
defensive third amnd with two left SA won their fourth PC but the
lightning-quick first-wave defender ran Reid-Ross’s drag-flick down. Keeper
Takase was miraculous but the fifth PC went SA’s way with 10 seconds left and
Reid-Ross underlined why he is rated among the fastest drag-flickers in the
world when he bulged the roof of the net (3-3).
LOG in brief (played 4 unless stated): 1 Japan 19
points (goal difference 20); 2 South Africa 10 points (GD 17); 3 China (3) 6
points (GD 6); 4 Austria 6 points (GD -1); 5 Czech Republic (3) 0 points (GD
-11); 6 Brazil 0 points (GD -31).
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: SA 3 Japan 3; May 4: vs Austria (11.30 am SA
time); May 6 (all live on SuperSport 6): Classification matches (5/6 places);
(3/4 places); final (8 am SA time).
Goalkeeper: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng).
Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern
Blues), Lance Louw (SG), Lloyd Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Rhett Halkett
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), Clint Panther (SG).