SA men’s hockey side win Nations Cup, qualify for Pro League

SA men’s hockey side win Nations Cup, qualify for Pro League
South Africa celebrates winning during the Final match between South Africa and Ireland on day 5 of the FIH Hockey Nations Cup 2022 at North West University on 4 December, 2022 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. (Photo: Nathier Sulaiman/Gallo Images)

In a back-and-forth affair, South Africa defeated Ireland in the final of the FIH Nations Cup to to advance.

In what can only be described as a high-octane display of hockey, the SA men’s team beat Ireland in the finals of the FIH Nations Cup in Potchefstroom. The match ended 4-3 in favour of the host nation, securing the South Africans a place in next year’s FIH Pro League competition. 

The finals victory was made even sweeter by the fact that SA lost 1-0 to Ireland in the pool stages of the competition. However, that match had no serious implications for SA as they had already qualified for the semi-finals after impressive victories over Pakistan (6-2) and France (2-1).

In their semi-final match against Korea, Tevin Kok’s 30th-minute field goal was cancelled out by a late penalty corner goal by Jonghyun Jang (51st minute)

The semi-final then went to a shootout. Goals from Bradley Sherwood, Tyson Dlungwana and Mustaphaa Cassiem saw SA win the tiebreaker 3-2 and qualify for the finals. 

South Africa FIH Hockey Nations Cup

South Africa celebrate as the final hooter goes during the final match between South Africa and Ireland on day 5 of the FIH Hockey Nations Cup 2022 at North West University on 4 December, 2022 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. (Photo: Nathier Sulaiman/Gallo Images

An epic final

The packed Potchefstroom crowd was treated to an electric display of hockey. The end-to-end match was fast-paced with both teams evidently leaving everything they had on the turf. 

SA got off to a hot start in the final of the Nations Cup with captain Dayaan Cassiem scoring after just three minutes. This goal proved to be enough for South Africa to finish the first quarter 1-0 up. 

The Irish did not take this lying down. Shane O’Donoughue scored from a penalty corner to level the scores in the 18th minute. Cassiem would score his second goal 10 minutes later to send SA into the halftime break with a 2-1 lead. 

SA would extend their lead when experienced talisman Tevin Kok scored in the 30th minute. However, a second goal from O’Donoghue (35th minute) showed there was still fight in the Irish side. A goal from Jon McKee in the 44th minute meant that the scoreboard was level at three goals apiece heading into the fourth and final quarter. 

In the early stages of the fourth quarter, Cassiem, already having a phenomenal performance, earned SA a penalty stroke in the 48th minute. His younger brother, Mustaphaa Cassiem, soundly slotted away the opportunity to once again give SA the lead. 

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That goal would secure the victory for SA, but the action did not end there. Determined to find a late equaliser, Ireland piled on the pressure in the final 10 minutes, but were unsuccessful in their attempts.

A solid South African defensive unit, led by the calm heads of Keenan Horne, Jethro Eustice and goalkeeper Hendrik Kriek, held off the Irish attack. SA assistant coach Ashlin Freddy told Daily Maverick that defensive stability was the forefront focus of their training camp prior to the tournament. 

“We’ve got a lot of firepower in our team, especially going forward. They’re a talented bunch when they’ve got space,” Freddy said prior to the Nations Cup final. 

“That is what we try to set up — give the opposition some space and then hurt them on the counter.”

This strategy was on full display in the final, with players like Kok, Dayaan Cassiem and Ryan Julius regularly finding themselves in open spaces. 

The next steps

Winning the Nations Cup secured SA a spot in the 2023/24 FIH Pro League. 

“It’s similar to the Uefa Champions League,” said Dayaan Cassiem. 

“You play against the top nine teams in the world rankings. You play a home leg and an away leg. So, for example, Belgium would come here and play, then we would go there.”

South Africa have competed once in the Pro League — finishing ninth in the 2021/22 iteration of the competition. 

The competition, replacing the FIH Hockey World League in 2019, serves as a qualifier for the Hockey World Cup and Olympic games. 

“The Pro League is the lead-up for our Olympic track for Paris. It really sets up the platform for the next phase going to the next tournament,” said Freddy. 

“Our programme kind of changes with the inclusion of the Pro League, and it just gives us more exposure at the international level. That is only a good thing for South African hockey.”

SA have never placed higher than 10th in either the Olympic Games or World Cup. However, with evident developments being displayed in the Nations Cup, the side will be hopeful that they can improve on past performances. DM


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