Azerbaijan fought back to trail 3-2 and there were some anxious moments before the final whistle sounded.

It was unconvincing but SA are through to Saturday’s semi-finals where they are to meet China at a still-to-be-confirmed 4.15pm while France will take on Egypt at 2pm.

Concerted SA pressure resulted in striker Julian Hykes winning a penalty corner decision in the fifth minute and the Durban boy, SA striker Taine Paton - relishing his 100th Test match – injected the PC pass but defender Matt Guise-Brown’s effort from the top of the strike zone was blunted by the determined Azeri defence.

A minute later (sixth) centre back Austin Smith flashed SA’s second PC high into the net, the power behind the drag-flick being generated with deceptive ease (1-0).

SA kept pressing hard but Azeri broke away in the 11th and Muhammad Tofeeg unfurled a rasping reverse-stick shot that Rassie Pieterse saved with assurance.

Seconds from the close of the first quarter (15th minute) a visionary square-pass left from midfielder Clint Panther found Smith whose play won a PC, which he finished off with aplomb (2-0).

Seconds in the second quarter, SA appealed in vain for a goal from field play but Egyptian umpire Sherif Elamari and Chinese colleague Zhinan Tao weren’t moved. Four more opportunities weren’t finished off until the 28th when Natius Malgraff had time and space enough to coolly draw Azeri captain and goalkeeper Vladimir Avdonin off his line before pulling the ball left and popping it into the empty net (3-0).

Panther came close soon after half-time and in the 38th midfielder Dan Sibbald’s diagonal pass from the left almost brought joy for striker Keenan Horne. SA kept on the attack but Azeri weren’t done yet and Shahbaz Ali pulled one back two minutes from the end (43rd minute) of the third quarter (3-1).

Despite SA’s continued pressure the proud Azeri knew they still had a sniff and in the 48th it was Ali, once again from the left, who this time brought the men in red and black within one goal of drawing level (3-2).

Eight minutes from time Smith let fly with a PC drag-flick that flashed over the crossbar as SA sought to put space between them and the underdogs. Imran Zai was inspirational in the heart of the Azeri defence and got his side out of dire straits a host of times.

The home fans’ hearts were in their mouths with six left when Ali and Tofeeg combined superbly but Pieterse was up for the challenge.

The earlier quarter-finals were high-scoring affairs, the third of which saw a super-motivated Switzerland deserving better than a 5-3 defeat to unbeaten France.

SA TEAM
Rassie Pieterse (GK), Dylan Swanepoel, Austin Smith (capt), Rhett Halkett, Matt Guise-Brown, Jet Eustice, Clint Panther, Tim Drummond, Taine Paton, Pierre de Voux, Julian Hykes. Rolling subs: Gowan Jones (GK), Dan Bell, Robin Jones, Dan Sibbald, Natius Malgraff, Keenan Horne, Shannon Boucher.

QUARTER-FINAL RESULTS
China 6 Czech Republic 2; Egypt 7 Belarus 1; France 5 Switzerland 3; South Africa 3 Azerbaijan 2.

SATURDAY’S SEMI-FINALS
(Times tbc): 14h00 France vs Egypt; 16h15 South Africa vs China.
The 5th to 8th cross-pool playoffs: 09h30 Azerbaijan vs Czech Republic; 11h45 Belarus vs Switzerland

SUNDAY’S MEDAL MATCHES
14h00 (bronze); 16h15 (gold/silver)
(7/8th) 09h30; (5th/6th) 11h45.