SA hockey third in Champions Challenge
6 December 2011
The South African men's hockey team finished third at the FIH Champions Challenge in Johannesburg on Sunday, but will need to win a qualifying tournament in Japan in April to book a place at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Although they have already qualified for the Olympics as African champions, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) had set the men's hockey team a minimum requirement of second place at the Champions Challenge to ensure their place in London.
They came close to achieving that requirement, but came up short against eight-time Olympic champions India in the semi-finals despite dominating the match.
Tougher of the two groups
Coach Gregg Clarke's charges were drawn in Pool A, which proved to be the tougher of the two groups, along with India, Belgium, and Poland.
Facing Poland in their first match, South Africa created plenty of opportunities, but were let down by their finishing. Nonetheless, they scored a 3-1 win behind two short corner goals from Justin Reid-Ross and a field goal from Lloyd Norris-Jones.
Reid-Ross was a monster for South Africa throughout the tournament at short corner time, exhibiting not only an immensely powerful drag flick, but also the ability to place it well – high or low, left or right.
Eleven goals in the match
Next up for South Africa was India. It proved to be a very exciting contest, producing 11 goals, but it was India that got the better of it, especially through their short corner.
In the 49th minute it was 4-4, but South Africa, disappointingly, lost their shape and conceded goals in the 55th, 56th, and 57th minutes to go down 7-4.
Belgium, who have already booked their place at the Olympic Games after finishing fourth in the European Championships, were the hosts' final pool opposition.
They looked well in control in the first half and took a two-goal lead into the break, but South Africa fought back well to make it 2-1 through a Reid-Ross short corner, but the Belgians held on for a 2-1 win.
Showdown with Japan
South Africa's reward for finishing third in Pool A was a showdown with Japan, second in Pool B, in the quarterfinals.
Captain Austin Smith and company controlled the contest superbly in the first half and built up a 3-0 lead through three beautifully executed Reid-Ross short corners. However, in the second half, they went off the boil, which allowed Japan to pull two goals back, and left coach Gregg Clarke dissatisfied with a fractured performance.
The win, nonetheless, put South Africa into the semi-finals where they faced India again after the Indians edged Malaysia 5-4 in extra time in the quarterfinals.
South Africa started well and took a 2-1 lead into the break, leaving them within touching distance of a place at the London Games. India, however, struck three times in the early part of the second half, two of them short corners, to take a 4-2 win.
That left South Africa with a game against Pan-American champions and world number eight Argentina for third place.
Saving their best for last, the hosts took the lead through Reid-Ross in the 18th minute. Four minutes later, Lucas Cammareri levelled for the South Americans.
Only three minutes later, South Africa hit the front once more, this time through Taine Paton.
A goal shortly before the end of the game by Lloyd Norris-Jones decided the contest 3-1 in South Africa's favour, which served to give the team plenty of encouragement, but not the minimum second place result they had so desired.
Top goal scorer
Reid-Ross finished as the tournament's top goal scorer, along with Belgium's Tom Boon, after netting eight goals, while South Africa also picked up the Fair Play Award.
The Belgians claimed the title with a superb fightback, coming back from 3-1 down to edge India 4-3 in the final.
Fifth place went to Malaysia, with a 3-0 shutout of Poland, while Japan ended seventh with an easy 7-2 win over Canada.
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