Sport

FIH NATIONS CUP

SA men’s Nations Cup hockey side fly high to seal semifinal spot

SA men’s Nations Cup hockey side fly high to seal semifinal spot
South Africa in action against France on 29 November 2022 in the FIH Men’s Nations Cup. The home team won 2-1 in Potchefstroom. (Photo: François Goyet / International Hockey Federation / Facebook)

With one pool game to spare, the SA men’s hockey team have qualified for the semifinals of the FIH Nations Cup after two impressive performances.

The FIH Men’s Hockey Nations Cup kicked off on 28 November in Potchefstroom. Determined to make the most of their home advantage, the SA men’s team delivered solid performances in their opening two fixtures to seal a spot in the tournament’s semifinals with one pool game to spare.

The team ran through Pakistan in their opening match on Monday. An impressive attacking performance saw the South Africans secure a 6-2 win by the final whistle.

Their winning ways continued into their second match against France, which the host nation won 2-1 in a tight affair.

The rundown

In the match against Pakistan, Jacques van Tonder opened the scoring after eight minutes, only for Pakistan’s Rooman to equalise five minutes later. 

However, a penalty flick from Mustaphaa Cassiem (25th minute) and an aerial tap-in by Samkelo Mvimbi (27th minute) would see the hosts go into the halftime break 3-1 up.

The goals kept coming as the experienced Tevin Kok pulled out a clever finish to score in the 40th minute.

SA started the final quarter strongly, with captain Dayaan Cassiem extending the lead in the 45th minute of playing time. Arshad Liaqat pulled one back for Pakistan in the 50th minute.

sa hockey

South Africa’s Jethro Eustice (right) during the match between South Africa and Pakistan on 28 November 2022 at the FIH Men’s Nations Cup in Potchefstroom. (Photo: Abdul Rana / International Hockey Federation)

However, Keenan Horne would hammer in the final nail and score South Africa’s sixth goal after 56 minutes. 

Against France, SA went down 1-0 after 11 minutes, due to a well-worked goal by Corentin Sellier. However, the French lead was short-lived as Kok, celebrating his 50th cap, restored parity just a minute later.

The low-scoring affair was sealed in the 46th minute when Horne slotted a field goal, which would prove to be enough for the South Africans to win the game.

Preparation is key

A major positive for the South African side is their defensive structure and stability — a focus area for the squad in the training camp leading up to the tournament, according to assistant coach Ashlin Freddy.

“We’re showing a lot of defensive resilience,” Freddy told Daily Maverick

“It’s allowing our attacking players to have more freedom going forward because we have got a good defensive base.”

The defensive improvements were evident in the opening match against Pakistan, where several threats to the South African goal were denied by outstanding tackles and blocks.

The preparations for the tournament not only helped Team SA iron out on-field issues, but also create a positive team atmosphere which the players have bought into.

“The thing that stands out the most for me is everyone working together as a team and just enjoying everyone’s company,” said captain Cassiem.

He and the other senior players have enjoyed their leadership duties because of the team’s vibe, despite several less experienced players being included in the squad. 

Young stars shine

Trevor de Lora, Jacques van Tonder, Anton van Liebenberg, Senzwesihle Ngubane and Guy Morgan all had Under 20 caps heading into the Nations Cup, with Luke Wynford (22) making his debut in the opener against Pakistan. 

De Lora (22) took home a man of the match award in the same game and teed-up Van Tonder for the latter’s first international goal.

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De Lora and Van Tonder are well acquainted with each other on the hockey field, having played together in school at Grey College.

“I didn’t even call for the ball. I think [De Lora] just knew I was there. So there’s definitely a bit of chemistry coming through from the school days,” Van Tonder said about his goal, which came after a wayward penalty corner routine.

Sticking to the process

The focus now shifts towards SA’s final pool game against Ireland on 1 December, with one eye on the longer-term goal of winning the competition.

“In the training camp, we said this would be a process,” said Dayaan Cassiem. “Right now, it’s just about sticking to that process and in the end, it will become much easier.”

“We are here to be competitive. We want to stick to the process, play well and win this whole thing.” DM

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