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SA annihilated by brilliant Belgium

Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing blared over the loudspeakers at the Wits Astro in Johannesburg on Monday night.

But at 7-0 down to Belgium at half time, it was difficult to believe that the South African men’s team would come back in their must-win final group game of the Hockey World League.

Taking on the Olympic silver medallists in this critical match was always going to be a tough task.

While they had a far better second half, the South Africans simply couldn’t match the skill and execution of the Belgians, eventually going down 9-1.

As a result they will miss out on the tournament quarterfinals and will play for ninth and 10th place against Japan on Friday.

Had they just taken the easy route – with a victory over continental rivals Egypt on Saturday, it could have been a very different scenario.

But a 2-1 loss to the Egyptians meant they had to beat Belgium to make it through to the quarterfinals.

Unlike the SA women’s team, who pulled off an unlikely victory over the USA in their must-win match on Sunday to book a spot in the quarters, the SA men just couldn’t overcome a team ranked 10 places above them in the world.

In fact, they didn’t look like they were up for the fight in that fateful first half.

Belgium made it look easy as they slotted goal after goal past the SA defence. And while the second half was a far better one defensively, it wasn’t enough.

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Matt Guise-Brown scored SA’s solitary goal – off a penalty corner in the third quarter.

“In the first half it’s almost as if our basic skills were non-existent,” lamented SA coach Fabian Gregory afterwards.

“We couldn’t trap the ball, we couldn’t keep the ball, we got dispossessed in one-on-ones and every time we made errors they punished us. I think our defence in the D was poor – we let in some soft goals, which I am disappointed with.

“All credit to Belgium though. They punished us when we made mistakes. That’s the value of a world class team and that’s exactly what they are.

“The second half was the type of performance I expect from this group of players so I was really disappointed that we didn’t deliver that second-half performance in the first half. But at 7-0 down after the first half the game was over, which was difficult. We just tried to salvage something out of the game from there to give us a bit of confidence for our last game,” added Gregory.

Captain Tim Drummond added: “It’s extremely disappointing but I’m proud of how the guys came back in the third and fourth chukka. We know they’re a world class side – Olympic silver medallists. It’s great to play against opposition of that calibre but we’ve got a lot to learn.”

Meanwhile, in other matches played at the Wits Astro on Monday, a goal after just 12 seconds was a sign of things to come for the Australians who went on to defeat Japan 7-2 in their final pool game.

That saw them finishing well clear at the top of Pool A. Japan, meanwhile, finished on the bottom of the pool and will play in the playoff for ninth and 10th place against the home team.

In the other Pool A match of the day, Spain took a 2-0 lead against New Zealand before the Kiwis came back to equalise at 2-2 and then take a 3-2 lead. But two more goals within the final three minutes from the Spanish saw them winning 4-3 and finishing second in the pool.

Germany finished top of Pool B after they beat Ireland 2-0 in their final group match.

As a result, the Germans will play France in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Australia will take on Egypt, Spain will face Ireland and Belgium will play New Zealand.


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