SA hockey men, Japan draw 3-3
The South Africa men’s hockey team drew 3-3 with Japan in a tight, nerve-jangling clash at the Olympic Qualifier Tournament at Gifu Green Stadium in Japan on Wednesday.
Barring the most bizarre upsets in Friday’s final round, Japan and South Africa are now almost certainly through to Sunday’s final, which has as its prize the last ticket left for the men’s event at London 2012.
In the fourth minute a Justin Reid-Ross long ball to Haley found Marvin Harper who earned South Africa’s only PC of the half, but first-wave defender Katsuyoshi Nagasawa comfortably ran down the opportunity.
Pieterse in goal made a timely intervention on the quick Japanese counter-attack before Tim Drummond nearly decapitated the umpire with a slashing shot wide of the far post at the other end.
SA captain Austin Smith was hugely influential in the middle while Lance Louw made a great tackle that snuffed out a Japan counter-attack before Pieterse, Lloyd Madsen and Norris-Jones were key in other heart-stopping moments in the SA goalmouth.
Wade Paton and Julian Hykes set up McDade 16 minutes from halftime but goalkeeper Katsuya Takase narrowed the angle with slide-rule precision.
With 10 minutes to the break, Japan won their first PC somewhat controversially, from which Pieterse made a great double save before captain Kawakami Kei pounced on the rebound (1-0). Four minutes later the alert Ian Haley whipped in a speculative cross and the ever-present Norris-Jones was on hand to scramble in the equaliser (1-1).
Five minutes after the changeover, defender Madsen did superbly to block a golden opportunity but the Japanese won their second PC soon after, and Nagasawa maintained their 100% success rate (2-1).
SA combined with clockwork precision straight from the re-start for Norris-Jones to win his team’s second PC and Reid-Ross took his tournament tally to eight with a drag-flick rocket launcher (2-2).
A clever Hykes dummy enabled McDade’s slap shot but the nippy Kenta Tanaka stole away to make it 3-2 midway through the second half.
SA won their third PC straight away and this time Smith's blistering drag-flick smashed into the cross bar and stayed out, much to the skipper’s disbelief.
Close calls came and went in both goal zones as play flew from end to end but Taine Paton’s nifty stickwork to win SA’s third PC was undone by keeper Takase’s glove save.
Then Andrew Cronje made a superb tackle to stem a Japanese one-two. In the last five minutes Japan were pinned in their defensive third and with two minutes remaining, SA won their fourth PC but the lightning-quick first-wave defender ran Reid-Ross’s drag-flick down.
Keeper Takase was miraculous but the fifth PC went SA’s way with 10 seconds left and Reid-Ross underlined why he is rated among the fastest drag-flickers in the world when he bulged the roof of the net (3-3).
SA's RESULTS AND REMAINING MATCHES (all times are CAT, SA, GMT+2)
April 26: South Africa 11 Brazil 1
April 28: South Africa 6 Czech Republic 2
April 30: South Africa 5 China 2
May 2: South Africa 3 Japan 3
May 4: v Austria (11.30am)
May 6: 5th/6th-place playoff (3am), 3rd/4th-place playoff (5:30am), Final (8am) - all live on SuperSport 6