SA men go down to Japan
Austin Smith (Gallo Images)
Quilmes, Argentina - South Africa's men's hockey team will be battling to avoid the wooden spoon in the Champions Challenge tournament after losing 2-1 to Japan on Saturday.
South Africa will play the winner of the Canada/Poland match to attempt to avoid finishing last in the eight-team tournament.
A 43rd minute strike from Toshiro Tachibana sealed the match for the Japanese, which followed Katsuyoshi Nagasawa’s low penalty corner flick in the 18th minute.
This was after SA captain Austin Smith had won and converted a penalty corner in the third minute, sending a blistering effort into the roof of the net.
Smith also forced a double save from Japan 'keeper Katsuya Takese from a penalty corner late in the half and the teams went into the break 1-1.
South Africa nearly went a goal behind with Japan’s first attack of the second half were it not for Rhett Halkett, who showed fine commitment to slide in and clear the shot off the line.
Japan’s winner came when Tachibana got ahead of his marker to deflect home a cross from the right before Nagasawa went close to making it 3-1.
South Africa fought hard in the latter stages and would surely have scored were it not for more goalkeeping heroics from Takese.
Arguably South Africa's best chance came through Nic Gonsalves with just three minutes remaining, but his close-range deflection missed the target before Japan ran down the clock to seal the victory.