South African hockey tops in Africa

25 November 2013

The South African men’s and women’s national hockey teams won the Africa Cup of Nations at the City Park Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya on the weekend to book their places at the 2014 World Cup in The Netherlands.

While the men recorded a 2-0 victory over Egypt to clinch the title, the women had to come from back from 0-2 down to defeat Ghana 3-2.

Julian Hykes slotted a superb action goal in the eighth minute and Clint Panther secured victory two minutes from time in the men’s final, but coach Charlie Pereira was far from happy with the way the umpires handled the tournament decider.

Foul play

Speaking after the game, Pereira said: “The umpires missed some critical moments, Wade Paton got a stick to the chest from an Egyptian player, Jonty Robinson was taken out badly; those are red card moments that didn’t happen. On one occasion we were prevented from taking an attacking free-hit because defenders weren’t five yards from the ball yet no sanction was given. That should be sin-bin straight away.

“To be fair, the umpiring has been fairly good this tournament and we should have put the game away early,” Pereira said. “We had plenty of opportunities, but if you don’t bury them it leaves your opponent believing they can take it. That penalty corner Egypt got with three minutes to go, with us still only 1-0 up, my heart sank, but we pulled through.”

Funding

Commenting on the standard of play, Pereira said: “African hockey has huge potential. I have been very impressed, but like us, it’s all about a lack of funding to build a sustainable international and domestic programme, but we are in the World Cup finals next year in May, and sponsors can’t now shy away. We have been talking to people but had to get this hurdle out of the way, now we can talk seriously.”

Captain Austin Smith, one of the stars of the tournament, commented: “I am elated that we have qualified for next year’s World Cup. A lot of people think it’s easy for us to win the Africa title, but it is never the case in Africa.

“There are what we call so many thunderbolts and curve balls. The surface was incredibly difficult. I am very proud of the guys’ discipline, and today the direct physical challenge meant I am just grateful none of my players were seriously injured. Our management deserve congratulations too.”

Two goals down

In the women’s final, star Ghana striker Elizabeth Opoku, the player of the tournament, put her side in the lead after only three minutes and then doubled their advantage with a stunning deflected shot in the 14th minute.

South Africa, though, dominated possession, ultimately getting off 22 shots on goal to Ghana’s three, and that told in the end.

Celia Evans reduced the deficit to one and a superb Bernie Coston deflection levelled matters before Tanya Britz found the winner two minutes from time.

“It’s a big relief, an amazing feeling to have come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and realise our dream of qualifying for the World Cup in The Netherlands next year,” South African captain Marcelle Keet said after the game. “It took hard work and the lesson learned is that nothing comes easy.”

‘Our finishing was woeful’

Coach Fabian Gregory lamented his side’s poor finishing. “A big disappointment was our lack of execution in the goal zone. Our finishing was woeful in both halves. You can’t have 20-odd goal shots yet wait until just minutes before the end to take the lead.”

He added: “We will take the win and I am proud of the girls for coming through a difficult match but we should have burnt off the challenge by half-time.

“Hats off to Ghana, though, who gave us a very tough match, despite the stats. There is no doubt that women’s hockey in Africa is getting better. Both Ghana and Kenya made us fight till the end.”