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