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Heading to Bhubaneswar for the FIH Hockey Series Finals in India, South African hockey fans would have been hopeful but not overly optimistic of a top 2 finish. The men were at the start of a new coaching process and had very little time together heading to India. That they started the tournament with two disheartening defeats properly added to the lack of optimism. But on the edge of elimination South Africa fought back.

A superb win against Mexico was followed up by a hard-fought victory against Russia before a superb last gasp come from behind victory against USA to secure a spot in the final. That victory secured South Africa’s spot in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers and more importantly gave South Africa momentum ahead of the African Cup in Stellenbosch in August.

Of course, South Africa still had to play the final against hosts India and faced a massive crowd in support of the home nation. India on their day are simply breath-taking and today was one of those days as the hosts outshone the African champions from the start of the game. They won two penalty corners in the first quarter and scored from both. The first in the second minute from Varun Kumar before Harmanpreet Singh followed suite in the 13th minute.

Singh added another with a fortuitous penalty stroke awarded in the 25th minute and at half time India led 3-0 having had 18 circle entries to South Africa’s 3. That score quickly moved to 4-0 with Vivek Prasad netting from a field goal after some good aerial skills from Hardik Singh and Varun Khumar made it 5-0 early in the fourth to the delight of the capacity crowd at the Kalinga Stadium. South Africa managed to get one back from a penalty corner with Richard Pautz the scorer but in truth it was just a consolation goal.

For coach Garreth Ewing and his assistants Sihle Ntuli and Cheslyn Gie it will be a case of job done. The performances of some players will be particularly pleasing with Rassie Pieterse having his best series in goal, while Austin Smith, Jethro Eustice and Tyson Dlungwana were particularly pleasing in defence. Nicholas Spooner and Bili Ntuli both continued to build their reputations as well. The focus will turn quickly onto the African Cup as Ewing will know that a lot of the hard work is still ahead.

For South African hockey fans, the focus now switches from India to Spain, from Bhubaneswar to Valencia and from Men’s Hockey to Women’s hockey as the SuperGroup South Africa ladies attempt to continue their Road to Tokyo with a top two finish in a tough field. The action gets underway on the 19 June.

FIH Hockey Series Finals – Final

India 5 (Kumar 2’ & 49’, Singh 11’ & 25’ & Prasad 35’)
South Africa 1 (Pautz 53’)

Photos - Hockey India

South Africa had overcome a slow start to find themselves in the FIH Hockey Series Finals final four. On a sweltering hot Bhubaneswar, the African champions took on the team that defeated them in the opening game USA. USA had finished top of the pool and skipped the Quarter-Final stage, while South Africa had secured their place in the semi-final with a thrilling 2-1 win over Russia.

The South Africans started the game the better side and created a few opportunities including three penalty corners. USA however managed to keep the South Africans at bay and with 5 seconds left on the clock won their first penalty corner of the match. When Aki Kaeppeler fired home the corner there would have been a few flashbacks from the South Africans after a similar pattern had developed in the opening game between the two.

But Garreth Ewing’s side have come a long way in the tournament and they proceeded to dominate the game and dictate the pace under very trying conditions due to the heat. Although dominating the possession the South Africans were not quite creating enough circle penetrations and headed into the half-time break 1-0 down with a few players guilty of snatching at chances presented.

But the break eventually came when South Africa won their fifth penalty corner of the match and Austin Smith stood tall and fired home. Smith is the highest capped player in the squad and his ability to handle the emotions at the time of pressure was telling in setting the game up for a grand stand finish.

As the African’s surged forward looking for a winning goal USA created the best chance of the game when Christian de Angelis missed the ball in front of an open goal and it struck his foot. It was the kind of chance that could have broken the resilience of the South Africans, but instead inspired them that they had to take advantage of that get out of jail card.

They did just that in the fourth quarter creating 10 circle entries to the USA’s 2, but with 1-minute left in the game it looked like we were headed to showdowns. Siya Nolutshungu was out stretching in preparation before an entire field move from back to front fell to Owen Mvimbi, his pass looked out of reach for Bili Ntuli, but the superb forward dived forward to reach the ball and fired a shot towards goal. Nicholas Spooner was the quickest to react and diverted the ball passed Klages in the USA goal with 34 seconds on the clock. That would be all, and South Africa had secured their place in the final, but more importantly in the next stage of the Olympic Qualification process.

Having headed to the tournament with hopes of a top 2 finish, the slow start may have quelled that ambition slightly. Well it would have if this was not a South African side. South Africans are at their best when their backs are against the wall and the quintessential characteristic of a South African sportsman is their ability to dig deep when few give them a chance. This team is full of South Africans and that’s the ultimate compliment I can pay to them.

FIH Hockey series Finals – Semi-Finals

South Africa 2 (Smith 42’ & Spooner 60’)
USA 1 (Kaeppeler 15’)

Final

South Africa vs. India – 15 June 2019 – 15:45 SA Time

Picture - Hockey India

The FIH Hockey Series Finals in Bhubaneswar hit the business end as the cross over Quarter finals took place on the hottest day of the tournament so far. South Africa had finished the group stage in third place and took on Russia in what form dictated would be a mouth-watering clash.

The tempo of the game was blistering as both teams gave 100% effort in creating a spectacle of hockey. The game flowed from side to side with each team having periods in the ascendancy and periods where they had to defend doggedly. Rassie Pieterse was in great form for South Africa and ahead of him Austin Smith, Jethro Eustice and Tim Drummond were showing the stability of experience is so integral in big matches.  

The game finally got its first goal in the third quarter when the man who knows where the goal is Nqobile Ntuli, continued to boost his reputation as a big goal getter. Bili responded to a half save from Gafarov at a penalty corner and finished coolly to the delight of the South African crowd watching on Supersport at home.

That lead was quickly pegged back at the start of the final quarter. Georgii Arussia fired home a penalty corner after Pieterse had superbly saved the previous one. This time the Russian striker made no mistake and put the ball into the net. A grandstand finish was set up as both teams would have the thought of a shootout in the back of their minds.

But it was South Africa that stood tall when it mattered most, and Richard Pautz took the opportunity to capitalize on the space he was afforded by the Russian defence to play through a perfect ball to Tevin Kok. Kok, who was a late injury replacement, showed a maturity that belied his age and squared to Ryan Julius who threw his stick at the ball and sent the South Africans into screams of joy that reverberated around the country much like 9 years and 1 day ago when Shaba scored.

The last four minutes offered South Africa a few chances to bury the game that weren’t taken, and fears were growing when Russia won a penalty corner in the last minute. They had struggled all game to beat Rassie Pieterse but at this corner they did only to be denied by a superb goal line save by captain Tim Drummond. South Africa had won the match and a space in the final four.

Nicholas Spooner: “We’re feeling pretty good. We didn’t play our best hockey tonight but we’re the winners at the end of the day against a good Russian side, so in these conditions we’re happy to get to the semi-finals. We didn’t have the best start against the USA in this tournament. It’s always hard from a South African point of view as we don’t have a lot of time together. We’ll be looking to put pressure on them and hopefully get a win there.”

South Africa know that a top 2 place finish will qualify them for the Olympic Qualifying Matches on the Road to Tokyo. To do that they will have to avenge the earlier defeat to USA in the semi-finals on Friday at 13:30 South African time. The whole country is behind the lads!

South Africa 2 (Ntuli 40’ & Julius 53’)
Russia 1 (Arusiia 47’)

Image - Hockey India

South Africa and Mexico took on each other for the first time in a winner takes all group stage game at the FIH Hockey Series Final in Bhubaneswar in India. Both teams knew that if they failed to win their tournament would be over but for placement games.

With the pressure cranked up to its highest level, South Africa took only 32 seconds to open the scoring, the quickest goal of the tournament. Matt de Sousa won South Africa a penalty corner and was on hand to deflect past Jose Hernandez. It was the only goal of an opening quarter in which South Africa exerted immense pressure but did not take enough of their chances.

The second quarter followed the same pattern and once again South Africa scored early as Nicholas Spooner benefitted from another penalty corner variation and deflected home. As the half time hooter sounded South Africa were feeling confident, however a two-goal lead is never enough in International Hockey.

Once again it was an early goal in the quarter that took the wind out of Mexico sails. Bili Ntuli, who was causing massive challenges for the Mexican defence, was on hand to finish after Hernandez saved from Richard Pautz.

South Africa finally bucked the trend in the final quarter when they scored as many goals in the quarter as in the previous three. Austin Smith netted from a penalty corner before Richard Pautz produced a sensational upright deflection for the goal of the game. There was still time for Keenan Horne to get on the scoresheet and South Africa to seal a 6-0 win.

South Africa will be pleased with getting a few goals on the scoresheet and how much more dangerous the penalty corners looked. Six different goal scorers will also please the management team.

The South Africans will now play Russia in the cross over Quarter Finals on Wednesday 12 June at 15:45. The winner of the game will play United States of America in the Semi-Finals on Friday 14 June.

South Africa 6 (de Sousa 1’, Spooner 17’, Ntuli 32’, Smith 50’, Pautz 53’ & Horne 58’)
Mexico 0

Pictures - Hockey India

The South African Hockey Men were looking to dust off the bruises and shake off the opening games performance at the FIH Hockey Series Final in Bhubaneswar. Having seen a dominant performance against USA produce a 2-0 defeat, the South Africans would have been keen to put in a better performance against Japan.

The two nations had met at the FIH World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg in 2017, where the South Africans won 4-2, but since that South Africa have played just 22 test matches, while the Japanese were playing their 61st since that Johannesburg encounter. The African champions were also featuring the second new coach since that tournament as Garreth Ewing has only recently been appointed with this his 5th test to his counterpart Siegfried Aikman in charge of his 66th.

South Africa also had to be aware that the Japanese ranking is only as low as it is due to historic non-competing in certain tournaments with heavy ranking points. Their victory at the 2018 Asian Cup underlined their commitment to developing their game ahead of the home-based Tokyo Olympics next year.

They started like they were the favourites and produced a professional display in holding the South Africans at bay and creating good chances with regularity. They were unlucky to find Rassie Pieterse in form as they took certain shots, but eventually broke the deadlock just before half time when Kentaro Fukuda expertly deflected past a helpless Siya Nolutshungu in the SA goals.

Although SA created a few chances, they were limited to much less dangerous possession than against USA and only three penalty corners in the game. Japan also had double the amount of circle penetrations as the South Africans in the 60 minutes. As South Africa sought to get back into the game they left gaps at the back and Kazuma Maruta finished off a counter attack after being left unmarked. There was nothing Pieterse could do in the goals for South Africa.

South Africa did pull a late goal back but unfortunately the strike from Tevin Kok, who had flown in to replace Dayaan Cassiem, was ruled to have crossed the line only after the siren. The decision means that South Africa are still without a goal after their first two group games.

For South Africa its is a simple equation for them regarding this competition. On Monday they will play Mexico for the rights to finish third in the group and earn a spot in the Quarter Final cross overs. Should they lose that game their tournament will be over.

With each game Ewing will learn more about his team, his combinations and his processes, but also the pressure that comes with being the coach of the South African Hockey Men!

South Africa 0-2 Japan (Fukuda 26’ & Murata 45’)

Image - Hockey India

The South African Hockey Men returned to the scene of the 2018 FIH Hockey World Cup, the Kalinga Stadium, with a view on creating better memories and beginning their Road to Tokyo at the FIH Hockey Series Final. They opened their campaign this morning against United States of America.

With the FIH Hockey Series Final an Olympic qualifying event, the top 2 nations qualify for the Olympic Qualifying matches later this year to earn a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With the ultimate carrot dangling between all teams the tournament promised to deliver superb excitement and tons of anxiety for good measure!

The opening quarter saw both sides play a bit on their back foot as both looked to not concede an early goal, but it was South Africa with the best early chance as Matt de Sousa fired wide after some good work. In the second quarter South Africa then raised the tempo and intensity and struck the post through the impressive Nic Spooner. In fact, South Africa did everything right except score in a quarter that saw USA Keeper Jonathan Klages the standout player in the half.

Despite all the penalty corners the South Africans won, they could not convert as USA eventually took the lead controversially at their own penalty corner when the ball was put home by Christian de Angelis after it appeared to strike his body. With no video referrals, the South Africans had to accept the call and charge up the other end.

As the Americans sat further back South Africa sieged forward but they were met time after time by the type of wall that would make an American president proud. The South Africans were then caught on the counter to rub salt into a very fresh wound and Paul Singh made no mistake to fire home. It deflated a South African side who will be left to rue the opportunities missed, having had three times as many penalty corners

South Africa will have very little time to wallow in disappointment as focus will quickly shift to the second game of the group stage against Japan on Saturday. The importance of this game has rocketed up as the tournament moves forward. And South Africa would definitely like to start creating happy memories at a venue that has frustrated more than pleased so far.

 South Africa 0-2 USA (De Angelis 47’ & Singh 58’)

All pictures courtesy of Hockey India

When the saying “time flies” was first phrased, the relevant person must have had the build up to an International Hockey tournament in mind because somehow, we are on the eve of the FIH Hockey Series Final in Bhubaneswar. The tournament is a Road to Tokyo Olympic Qualifying event, where the top 2 team progress to the Olympic Qualifying Matches later this year.

For South Africa’s Hockey Men, there is the added incentive that SASCOC will be using the event as a measure on the competitiveness of the side for inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics, with the goal of a top 2 finish to keep Olympic dreams alive.

South Africa’s Men have been in India for a couple of days and have prepared with two warm up games against India (3-1 defeat) and Poland (2-0 victory) ahead of the tournament. This was on the back of a successful three test home series a Randburg where they won all three encounters without conceding a goal.  

Garreth Ewing has also made two changes to the squad initially announced. Before travelling Mo Mea withdrew and was replaced by Owen Mvimbi, while Dayaan Cassiem suffered a concussion in the friendly against India and for medical reasons has been withdrawn from the series. Tevin Kok has flown to India to join up with the team as a replacement.

South Africa were of course at the same venue in December playing at the FIH Hockey World Cup and speaking to the press in India Rassie Pieterse shared his thoughts: “The World Cup was not a good outing for us because as per our world ranking, we should have finished at least in No.8 - No.12 position but there were a lot of positives we have taken from that event and the team is confident of a good show here because we are familiar with this atmosphere, the stadium and the crowd and would like to use it to our advantage.”

South Africa are currently ranked 16th in the world but showed in bits and pieces at the FIH Hockey World Cup last year that they can thrill. In Nic Spooner and Bili Ntuli they have two men who know how to score on the biggest stage, while the experience of Tim Drummond, Jethro Eustice and Austin Smith will be pivotal in the chase for top 2.

South Africa’s first opponent will be USA, currently ranked 25th in the world. USA secured their place at the series when they won the FIH Open Series in Salamanca in Mexico. They are coached by Dutchman Rutger Wiese. Aki Kaeppeler, who plays club hockey Mannheimer HC, will be someone to keep an eagle eye on at penalty corner time while HC Almeerse player Deegan Huisman carries a big goal threat.

As far as I can go back on the FIH Tournament Management Site, there has not been a meeting between the SA Hockey Men and the USA Men. It promises to be a classic at 5:00 am South African time live on Supersport 8.

FIH Hockey Series Finals – South African Fixtures

06 June – South Africa vs. USA
08 June – South Africa vs. Japan
10 June – South Africa vs. Mexico
12 June – Crossovers
14 June – Semi-Finals
15 June – Final

SA Hockey Mens Squad

Tim Drummond (Captain), Matthew Brown, Taylor Dart, Tyson Dlungwana, Jethro Eustice, Keenan Horne, Ryan Julius, Tevin Kok, Nduduzo Lembethe, Owen Mvimbi, Siyavuya Nolutshungu, Nqobile Ntuli, Richard Pautz, Rassie Pieterse, Austin Smith, Matthew de Sousa, Nicholas Spooner & Alex Stewart.

Pictures - Hockey India

The South African Hockey Men's side will depart for India and the Hockey series Final on the back of a satisfying performance at Randburg Astro against the Namibian Men. The South Africans, using a number of younger players including debutant Sam Mvimbi, were professional in the performance against a well coached Namibian side. 

After winning the opening two tests 4-0 and 5-0 respectively, the Lads made it three out of three with another 5-0 victory. It was a very frustrating opening half as South Africa were denied any goal mouth action by a superb display by the Namibians led fantastically by Ernst Jacobs. 

But the resistance was broken in the third quarter with South Africa netting not once or twice but four times to tear the wind out of the Namibian sails in a devastating five minute spell. Owen Mvimbi scored superbly in the 39th minute to open the scoring for the hosts, it was a fine finish from one of the more senior players in the squad. 

The second from South Africa was particularly pleasing for the management team, but also for the hockey public as a beautiful team move broke into the D and Nqobile Ntuli added to his impressive haul of international goals with a very well placed finish on the reverse stick. A minute later and he added a second made by great pressure from Tevin Kok. Ntuli was only too happy to home the ball into the empty net. 

Richard Pautz then completed the dominant spell getting his name on the scoresheet finishing off a wonderful piece of hockey from Tevin Kok with a sublime deflection to give Strauss no chance in the Namibian goal. South Africa added a fifth when Keenan Horne pounced on a loose ball after a save from Strauss. 

So three games, three wins and three clean sheets. Coach Ewing will look to his team to take more of their short corner opportunities and build on the progress that they have made in India. But all in all it was a job well done! 

Photo | Robert Swanepoel | www.runridedive.com

24 hours after the opening test match between South Africa and Namibia, the two teams locked horns again at Randburg Astro. Namibia were unchanged, with Brynn Cleak still unavailable due to hospitalization, while South Africa had the services of the exciting Dayaan Cassiem back.

With the excitement of international hockey back on South African, a decent crowd were at Randburg Astro for the action, while a couple hundred more were streaming on the Shoott South Africa Facebook page.

South Africa, in the reverse white kit, were looking to build on their display from the opening game and particularly work on their penalty corner conversion, while Namibia would have liked to be more competitive in the attacking third while maintaining their resolute defence.

Namibia were fantastic in denying the South Africans opportunities in the early stages of the game while having a bit more possession than in the opening test. The hosts were left to half chances that their neighbours were denying either through some courageous defending or superb goalkeeping. At the same time Liam Hermanus and Dakota Hansen were proving to be massive thorns in the South African sides.

South Africa eventually snuck in the opening goal of the game when Jethro Eustice fired in a low penalty corner. South Africa held a 1-0 lead at the half-time break, a score that fairly represented the first half of the game.

Alex Stewart, playing in his fourth game for his country, scored South Africa’s second from a good penalty corner variation. The youngster was delighted as it was his first goal for his country. With seconds left in the third chukka Keenan Horne converted another penalty corner variation that really enthused the crowd.

Dayaan Cassiem had been growing into the game and his presence was felt in the final quarter as he first scored a goal before assisting Matt de Sousa with the final goal of the game. Like Stewart earlier in the game it was de Sousa’s first for his country and the team were delighted.

Once again there were massive positives for Garreth Ewing and his team as they continue to build on combinations towards the FIH Hockey Series Final. The penalty corner looked more dangerous, the younger players are taking their opportunities to put themselves in the picture going forward. Namibia have also offered a valuable opposition, hopefully leading to more test matches between the neighbours.

The final game of the series takes place on Thursday at 19:00.

The Garreth Ewing Era of South African Hockey got off to a winning start as the hosts defeated their African neighbours 4-0 at Randburg Astro on Monday night. The South African side marked several changes from the Hockey Series Final squad due to availability including Rassie Pieterse taking the captains armband and Sam Mvimibi earning his first cap for South Africa.

Iconically this was the first ever test series between South Africa and Namibia, having only met at African Cup competitions before this. It’s a great follow up to the statements made by Garreth after being appointed coach in his conversations with the Hockey 24 Seven podcast regarding playing more test matches against Southern African opposition.

South Africa started well on a cool evening in Johannesburg and Owen Mvimbi, playing in his 33rd match for the country, took advantage of a defensive error to strike with a superb tomahawk into the bottom right corner. They made it 2-0 just before the end of chukka as Bili Ntuli superbly stole in and finished superbly passed DJ Strauss.

South Africa had a significant amount of possession and were managing the Namibian counter well. They were also creating moments of danger in attack without making Strauss make too many saves disappointingly. They did get a third before half time, when Ryan Julius, back from a good club season in Europe, created an easy finish for Ntuli to get his brace.

Keenan Horne, South Africa’s vice-captain on the night, made it 4-0 in the 37th minute and perhaps surprisingly that’s where the scoring ended. Richard Pautz, Tyson Dlungwana, Jethro Eustice and Tevin Kok all created big opportunities but were denied by a wonderful display from the Namibian rear-guard.

The result was a pleasing result for Springs and his team, with a happiness with how the experienced players performed, while the young stars given an opportunity where highly impressive with the likes of Tevin Kok, Sam Mvimbi and Andrew Hobson all impressing at different times.

The second test match will take place at 19:00 on Tuesday night at Randburg Astro before the series completes on Thursday at the same time. All matches will be streamed live on the Shoott South Africa Facebook page.

 

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