In Beijing last year the South African men’s hockey team looked as down and out as the global economy after a disappointing 12th place (last) finish. However, in the Tri-Nations tournament in Bloemfontein, they showed enough greenshoots of recovery to suggest their game is looking healthy again.
Germany arrived here as the reigning men’s Olympic champions after beating Spain in the Olympic final, but they were given a scare by the hosts before the visiotrs managed to hold on for a 4-3 victory after the scores had been pegged at 1-1 at the interval.
In fact, had South Africa turned possession and pressure into goals they could well have been over the hill and far away by half-time. Gareth Carr had rocketed a drag flick intomthe net in just the sixth minute before Germany realised they had a proper game on their hands and they equalised through a wicked deflection.
Christopher Zeller, who had earler been yellow carded, found the net with a flick and then went 3-1 up after a period of sustained pressure,┬á
The Germans came out flying in the second half and earned their first penalty corner within the first 4 minutes. Zeller made no mistake, drag flicking the ball into the top corner giving the keeper no chance. The South Africans had two choices. Either their heads could have dropped and allowed the Olympic gold medallists to run away from them, or they could show a refuse-to-lie-down spirit. They chose the latter and when Carr got his second goal with 18 minutes remaining, there was still plenty to play for in this lively contest. South Africa were galvanised and a goal from Julian Hykes levelled the scores.
The ebb and flow continued with Germany now applying the pressure and they nudged 4-3 ahead through another deflected goal that sealed matters. Still, with the clock winding down there wasa┬á chance for the hosts to salvage something … but Carr’s flick from a penalty corner almost on the hooter was run down by the blanket German defence. At the hooter the body language of the visitors showed that they had just used a get out of a jail card. Which can only be good news for the South African men’s team as they pluck the positivs from this display and move forward.
South Africa had gone into the game on the back of a 4-0 victory over Russia, with Carr again netting twice. The country has been crying ot for a prolific goal-getter since the retirement of Greg Nicol, and Carr could just be the man. If he continues his glut of scoring, then South Africa will win more matches than they lose and suddenly the future will look brighter than it has done for a few years.