South Africa’s men’s hockey players have been knocking on the door against the so-called ‘bigger’ nations here at the Tokyo Olympics, but on Thursday they barged right through, beating Rio 2016 bronze medallists and world No 4 Germany for the first time in an international competition.
They have been impressive in their previous three games – all defeats – in Pool B, but they have taken the fight to their higher-ranked opponents. They went down 3-1 to Great Britain, led 3-0 before losing 5-3 to the Netherlands and were involved in a 13-goal game against Belgium, losing 9-4.
On Thursday, they came back from 2-1 down to beat Germany 4-3.
Germany got the opening goal with a variation that was eventually prodded home by a diving Timm Herzbruch. South Africa showed that determination and fight that have characterised their performances in this tournament.
They pulled level with their first penalty corner of the game as Matt Guise-Brown got his second of the tournament with a low, strong drive. That parity wouldn’t remain for long and South Africa’s next circle penetration created another goal, with vice-captain Keenan Horne diving on to the ball and finishing superbly to give the African champions the lead.
Although it was a lead they would hold until the end of the first quarter, the European runners-up would not lie down and back down. They fought back with two goals in the second quarter to lead 3-2 at half-time.
Constantin Schaib got the equaliser through a field goal, picking up a rebound, before Lukas Windfeder got the goal from a penalty corner. Although Tobias Hauke would receive a yellow card just before half time, the South Africans weren’t able to capitalise on it.
As the heat made things more difficult, the South Africans defended with heart in the third quarter denying a number of German opportunities before springing the perfect counter-attack with Nic Spooner bursting through the middle and finishing superbly into the bottom left corner. It was 3-3 into the final quarter.
There was almost a surreal feeling in the final quarter as Germany allowed South Africa into the circle, Cassiem crossed the ball which took a massive deflection and Cassiem was awarded the goal. The South Africans had taken the lead at 4-3 with 12 minutes remaining.
There was a frantic finish to the match but South Africa held on for a famous victory.