SA, Japan in thrilling draw
Lloyd Norris-Jones (Gallo)
Johannesburg - The South African men's hockey team played to a thrilling 3-3 draw against tournament hosts Japan in their penultimate Olympic qualifying group fixture in Kakamigahara on Wednesday.
The teams went into the match as the only two unbeaten sides in the competition, level on points at the top of the table.
Japan took the lead with 10 minutes left in the first half after a penalty corner was awarded for an infringement in the South African penalty area.
After a frantic goalmouth tussle, the hosts knocked the ball in after the third rebound, with goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse making two saves before he was beaten.
Striker Lloyd Norris-Jones hit back for South Africa two minutes later to level the scores, sending the teams into the break level at 1-1.
Japan went ahead again seven minutes into the second half after they were awarded another penalty corner, but the South Africans immediately equalised once more through Justin Reid-Ross, who scored from a penalty corner.
With the scores level at 2-2, Japan took the lead for a third time with 17 minutes left to play after another scramble in the South African area resulted in a simple tap-in for the hosts.
With time running out, SA left it late to grab another equaliser.
In the last second of the match, the South Africans were awarded another penalty corner which specialist Reid-Ross put away into the top corner.
The draw left the sides level on 10 points at the top of the standings, four points ahead of China who held a game in hand.
South Africa play Austria in their last group match on Friday, while Japan have a tricky last fixture against China.
The top two sides will meet in the final on Sunday for the last available place at the London Olympic Games.