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South Africa sail into Olympic qualifier final

[img_assist|nid=3688|title=Final bound|desc=South African striker Lloyd Norris-Jones and defender Christian Minar of Austria race for possession – STANISLAS BROCHIER|link=node|align=left|width=180|height=120]The South Africa men’s hockey team drew 2-2 with Austria Friday but the result was only of academic interest as the men in green and gold knew before the match that they will face host nation Japan in Sunday’s final at Gifu Green Stadium anyway.

Midway through the first half SA were within the width of a stick of opening the scoring when Thornton McDade followed up a penalty corner only to see his effort saved on the goalline. Austria immediately responded with a controversial PC goal by impressive drag-flicker Michael Korper (1-0).

SA pressed hard and captain Austin Smith’s PC drag-flick fizzed centimetres past the post with Austria goalkeeper Philippe Thiltges well beaten and Rassie Pieterse made a fine save at the other end. The men in green and gold came close to equalising a number of times but the half-time whistle came with the Europeans 1-0 up. 

After the changeover an SA penalty corner came and went and a Lloyd Norris-Jones reverse-stick shot flashed over the crossbar before Korper was sin-binned as tempers flared in an increasingly physical encounter.

Smith equalised when he made no mistake from a PC (1-1) and play flew from end to end before a stunning diving deflection goal at the far post by Georg Jelinek from a pinpoint left-right diagonal pass put Austria 2-1 up with 14 minutes left.

SA keeper Pieterse made a great save and opposite number Thiltges was also kept busy at the other end until Smith breached the Austria keeper’s defence for the second time from a PC with five minutes to the final whistle.

Two minutes from time Marvin Harper’s deflection flew past the near post and the striker came agonisingly close to crossing the goalline once again with 18 seconds left but while they can reflect on a less-than-impressive performance the South Africans are in the final against Japan at 8 am SA time Sunday (live on SuperSport 6) and their fans can expect a far better showing when they take on Japan in the quest for the last ticket on offer for London 2012.

Sunday’s men’s classification matches will all be live on SuperSport 6. The final between Japan and South Africa is at 8 am SA time with the fifth/sixth place playoff between Czech Republic and Brazil at 3 am and the bronze medal match between China and Austria at 5.30 am.

Japan meet Azerbaijan in the women’s final at 8 am SA time Saturday. The match is live on SuperSport 6, as are the other women’s playoff matches. The fifth/sixth place playoff between Malaysia and the Austrian women’s team is at 3 am and the Chile/Belarus bronze medal match is at 5.30 am.

FINAL MEN’S LOG (played 5): 1 Japan 13 points (goal difference 21); 2 South Africa 11 points (GD 17); 3 China 9 points (GD 6); 4 Austria 7 points (GD -1); 5 Czech Republic 3 points (GD -7); 6 Brazil 0 points (GD -36).

SOUTH AFRICA vs AUSTRIA
Goalkeeper: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng).
Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern Blues), 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), Clinton Panther (SG).
Strikers: Ian Haley (WP), Marvin Harper (KCR), Lloyd Norris-Jones (WP), Julian Hykes (Amathole-Border), Thornton McDade (SG).
Rested: Michael Smith (Witwatersrand), Lance Louw (SG).

SA results/fixtures: SA 11 Brazil 1; SA 6 Czech Republic 2; SA 5 China 2; SA 3 Japan 3; SA 2 Austria 2; May 6 (SA vs Japan final live on SuperSport 6 at 8 am SA time).

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