Long road ahead for SA men's hockey
Midfielder Wade Paton believes the SA men's hockey team are in for a tough two weeks as they bid for a place at the London Olympic Games in July.
The South Africans left on Thursday for the six-nation Olympic qualifying tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan, which starts next week.
The team will have to win the tournament in order to qualify for the Olympics.
"It's going to be tough for us," Paton said.
"I think Japan will be a tricky place to play and we all know it's going to be difficult to qualify. We will have to be prepared and fully focussed on the task and that is to win, nothing less."
Paton said the South Africans, ranked first in the qualifying tournament, could not afford to underestimate any of their opponents.
"I think Gregg [Clark, team coach] will put the strongest outfit on for every game," Paton said.
"Obviously players dip in form but we have to be at our best throughout."
Meanwhile, Clark said the players were focussed and ready to put up a fight in an effort to join the national women's side at the London Games.
"Its our goal to make it to London and achieve a significant result," Clark said.
"This team, which I have described as the golden generation, wants to be successful and that starts in Japan."
The team departed without their overseas-based players, including captain Austin Smith and Justin Reid-Ross, who were set to join the squad next week after fulfilling club commitments in Europe.
The tournament in Japan is the culmination of a long qualification process for the team, which began back in September when they won the African Olympic Qualifier in Zimbabwe, only to have their spot retracted after additional criteria were put in place.
They then narrowly missed out on securing qualification at the Champions Challenge held in Johannesburg in November, having walked away with a bronze medal when a top-two finish was required to confirm their place at the Olympics.
The FIH Olympic Qualifier in Kakamigahara runs from April 26 to May 6.