13 June 2014
A stunning hat-trick between the 43rd and 48th minutes by South African drag-flick king Justin Reid-Ross helped the men in green and gold to an impressive 6-2 victory over Malaysia and a final placing of eleventh at the Hockey World Cup in The Hague on Thursday.
Incredibly, South Africa had trailed 0-1 at half-time, but Reid-Ross’ three goals, plus goals from Lloyd Norris-Jones, captain Austin Smith and Pierre de Voux took Fabian Gregory’s men to a fine victory.
Firhan Ashari netted in the first half for the Malaysians, while a superb Shahrun Abdulla shot 49 seconds from the final whistle made the final score a little better for the Asian side.
Deadly penalty corners
Reid-Ross, who had an inspired match, both on attack and in defence, sent the ball whistling past hapless Malaysia goalkeeper Kumar Subramiam from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute, then delivered a drag-flick at a fearsome speed that nearly took the keeper’s head off two minutes later before nailing down another penalty corner in the 48th minute that threatened to break the back of the net.
South Africa’s fourth goal was fittingly scored by the fleet-footed Norris-Jones, who took advantage of Smith’s slide-rule through-pass, and broke into the 23-metre area before entering the strike zone and smashing the ball past an advancing Subramiam.
The Malaysian net-minder enjoyed a decent tournament, but in the playoff contest the South Africans got on top of him. In the face of extreme pressure, caused by a clumsy defence whose members too often used their bodies to bump the South Africans off the ball, Subramiam was made to struggle.
The numerous penalty corners the South African strikers were able to win in the second half reflected the pressure the front-runners put the Malaysian defence under after the changeover, with the match taking a dramatic turn in the South Africa’s favour.
To add insult to injury, Smith also nailed down a superb penalty corner drag-flick goal in the 64th minute, while striker De Voux completed the rout one minute from the final whistle.
Yet the first half reflected much of South Africa’s woes in their Group matches, with the team’s lack of cohesion after being able to spend only two weeks together before the tournament being the players’ biggest problem.
World number 12 South Africa and world number 13 Malaysia have a history of close tussles in recent years and the full-time professional, well-paid Malaysians enjoy a national programme, while the men in green and gold have no such advantages.
Rassie Pieterse, in the goals, was instrumental in keeping South Africa in the game when things weren’t going their way, but there was little he could do in the 26th minute when Malaysia forward Firhan Ashari exhibited excellent close control to evade defenders in the strike zone and slip the ball past the goalie.
With five minutes to the break, Fitri Saari forced a penalty corner and Pieterse was on hand to make an acrobatic stick-save out to his right.
Defender Rhett Halkett also had a very good game, and not just as a stopper of attacks. Several of his passes created chances for his team-mates, while South African midfielder and vice-captain Wade Paton, a player who does the unfashionable hard graft that allows others to shine, drew praise from head coach Fabian Gregory for soldiering on during the tournament despite a debilitating injury.
Women’s playoff match
Meanwhile, the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team will meet an old foe when they take on world number nine Japan in the playoff for ninth place at 10:00 on Friday.
The Japanese women somewhat controversially edged South Africa, also in the playoff for ninth place, at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and the girls in green and gold will be determined to turn the tables this time round and end World Cup 2014 on a high, particularly as the Investec Cup looms in London mid-July, to be followed by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow towards the end of next August.