SA men let slip 4-1 lead
Gregg Clark (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The South Africa men’s hockey team led 4-1 with just over a quarter of the match to go only for Japan to come back and draw the side’s opening Champions Challenge outing 4-4 in Quilmes, just outside Buenos Aires in Argentina on Saturday night (SA time).
South Africa led in a number of games at the Olympics three months ago, only for the matches to be lost.
“Yes, disappointing to surrender a result from such a strong position again,” said head coach Gregg Clark.
“It's an aspect we are determined to put right, because if we bank results from the positions we are getting into, the fruits will be in the form of strong finishes at world-level tournaments.”
This eight-goal thriller saw SA score through debutant strikers Grant Glutz (22nd minute penalty corner) and Ignatius Malgraff (42nd minute field goal) plus two more from field play by fleet-footed London 2012 forward Lloyd Norris-Jones
(32nd minute) and the attack-minded Nic Gonsalves (39th).
“There were plenty of positives,” said Clark.
“Goals on debut for Malgraff and Glutz, and a first international goal for Gonsalves. Norris-Jones scored a great diving deflection too. And with two-and-a half minutes to go to steal the points we hit the post.”
SA manager Darryn Gallagher also saw much that was positive. “We were fantastic in the opening 11 minutes of the second half where we scored three goals. The team played a real positive brand of hockey, we had purpose and our execution was superb.”
The untried SA team, with four debutants, eight players sharing a meagre 20 Tests and the lowest average number of caps (32) in the competition, were rocked in the second minute of this Pool B goal-fest when Toshiro Tachibana opened the scoring.
The South Africans hit back with four goals in 21 minutes, but the never-say-die Japanese were intent on exacting revenge for their agonising 2-1 defeat to South Africa in the Olympic Qualifier Tournament final in May, and Kazuhiro Tsubouchi’s field goal in the 47th minute was reinforced by Toshiro Tachibana's penalty corner before Katsuyoshi Nagasawa buried another PC with five minutes left for the 4-4 equaliser.
“After Japan's second goal our players went into their shells,” said Gallagher. “We let ourselves down in the last 20 minutes with soft errors. If we play [the remaining matches] with real belief for the full 70 minutes we could see some special results.”
Tim Drummond might have conjured up the winner near the death but his shot across goal slammed into the far post and stayed out.
World No 12 SA tackle world No 10 Argentina at 22:30 (SA time) on Sunday and will not only have to contend with a vastly more experienced side (average caps 88 and average age 27 to SA’s 24) but a passionate, extremely vocal home crowd as well. The Argentines were 2-0 down against Ireland and facing the wrath of their fans before rallying to a nail-biting 4-3 victory.
Pool A matches saw new Malaysia head coach Paul Revington - the South African who piloted the men in green and gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 World Cup - guide his team to a 4-0 whitewash of Poland while world number seven and tournament top seeds South Korea beat Canada 2-0.
SA team:Austin Smith
(captain), Lloyd Norris-Jones
, Jacques le Roux (all Western Province); Michael Smith, Ricky West, Clinton Panther
, Owen Mvimbi, Miguel da Graca (all Southern Gauteng); Rhett Halkett
, Matthew Guise-Brown, Jonty Robinson
, Nic Gonsalves, Grant Glutz (all Northern Blues); Lloyd Madsen
, Tim Drummond, Taine Paton
(all KZN Coastal Raiders); Robin Jones (KZN Inland); Ignatius Malgraff (North West).
Coach: Gregg Clark. Manager: Darryn Gallagher.