Playing the most illustrious teams in your Group first-up is a blessing for the national men’s and women’s teams as Hockey World Cup 2014 gets under way for the African champions in The Hague, Holland Sunday.
Rightly so, the players in green and gold are not expected to win and that freedom will allow them to express themselves without the undue burden of expectation, writes Jon Cook.
The South Africa men’s team take on Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games winners Germany at 10.30am SA time (live on SuperSport 5) and in talismanic captain and defender/midfielder Austin Smith they have a key figure in mobilising the side in all facets.
At the back is penalty corner drag-flick king Justin Reid-Ross, whose return from a post London 2012 international sabbatical is underpinned by a superb Hoofdklasse season with Pinoke that ended recently in Holland.
Head coach Fabian Gregory says Reid-Ross has added maturity and variation to his game but SA must force enough PCs to make this weapon count. And at the other end SA must not concede early goals ÔÇô an Achilles heel in recent times that has forced them to play catch-up.
The SA side is unheralded but has quality players of the calibre of Jonty Robinson, who adds much value in open play and at set-pieces, while Lloyd Madsen’s accurate long passes from the back are also a major plus.
It is as a tight unit that SA can cause problems and against the clinical Germans who have sheer class in their midst, it’s a must. Midfielder and 2013 World player of the Year Tobias Hauke and a number of others, notably captain and key defender Max Muller, as well as strikers Christopher Zeller and Florian Fuchs, take advantage of any and every unforced error.
The mercurial superstar Moritz Fuerste is out of the tournament due to injury but Germany’s collection of superstars limits the damage.
The Investec South Africa women’s side, fielding 13 players with over 100 caps, tackle reigning World Cup champs Argentina at 7.45pm SA time (live on SuperSport 7) and will be relying on their pace and direct style of play to create uncertainty amongst eight-times World Player of the Year Luciana Aymar’s line-up.
World number 11 SA have genuine speed in players of the calibre of striker Sulette Damons, pictured above, and attacking midfielder Shelley Russell while captain Marsha Cox is the engine of the side.
The absence of double Olympian Lenise Marais, who suffered a serious injury in the week leading into the four-yearly showpiece, will be sorely felt in defence, but quality in the likes of combative Nicolene Terblanche and central defender Lisa Deetlefs will help negate this setback.
Not many teams can call upon the world record goalscorer as a last-minute call-up and in Pietie Coetzee SA have a player with the ability and experience to play whatever role head coach Giles Bonnet asks.
Apart from Aymar, Argentina have other game breakers in Delfina Merino, Carla Rebecchi and Rosario Luchetti, while key defender Noel Barrionuevo is a constant threat come penalty corner time and consistency for the full 70 minutes is a given for SA.
A heartening start by the South Africa teams against the best will stand them in good stead for what lies ahead.
SA WORLD CUP TEAMS
Men – Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng); Gowan Jones (KZN Coastal Raiders). Defenders: Rhett Halkett, Austin Smith (capt), Dylan Swanepoel (all Western Province); Jethro Eustice (Southern Gauteng); Justin Reid-Ross, Lloyd Madsen (both Northern Blues). Midfielders: Wade Paton, Taine Paton, Tim Drummond (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Clint Panther (Southern Gauteng), Jonty Robinson (Northern Blues). Strikers: Julian Hykes (Southern Gauteng), Lungi Tsolekile, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Pierre de Voux (all Western Province); Natius Malgraff (Eastern Province)
Women – Goalkeepers: Anelle van Deventer (North West); Sanani Mangisa (Southern Gauteng). Defenders: Lisa Deetlefs (Southern Gauteng), Marcelle Manson (Border), Nicolene Terblanche (Northern Blues), Quanita Bobbs (Western Province). Midfielders: Marsha Cox (capt), Bernie Coston (both Southern Gauteng); Shelley Russell, Tarryn Bright, Ilse Davids (all Western Province), Kelly Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders). Strikers: Dirkie Chamberlain (Northern Blues); Kathleen Taylor (Western Province); Celia Evans, Sulette Damons (both North West); Lilian du Plessis (Southern Gauteng). Late inclusion: Pietie Coetzee (Southern Gauteng).