In what was an unconvincing performance for the first hour, during which they led 3-2 at half-time, South Africa finally broke free to beat Kenya 8-3 in the Africa Cup Olympic Qualifier clash at Khumalo Hockey Stadium in Bulawayo on Friday.
Defending champs SA will now meet the winners of┬á the game between┬á Egypt or Ghana to know who they will be meeting in Sunday’s final.
SA scored through a hat-trick from leading tournament goalscorer Justin Reid-Ross of Northern Blues, a brace apiece by KZN Coastal Raiders stars Gareth Carr and Taine Paton, and one strike from Amathole (Border) forward Julian Hykes.
A highly motivated Kenya needed to win this one while SA needed one point to make sure of a berth in the title match and the first five minutes were frenetic as Kenyan skipper Zakaria Aura kept goalkeeper Brendon Botes on full alert in some edgy moments.
SA came back and Western Province’s Lloyd Norris-Jones and Kaspersky Southern Gauteng’s Clinton Panther got shots on target but keeper James Kayieko was up to the challenge.
It took an aware Carr to pick up that the keeper was expecting a pass and not a shot from the edge of the circle on the right and the defender nailed a pinpoint strike into the backboard.
Tim Drummond troubled the keeper next before Reid-Ross netted a stunning drag-flick from SA’s first penalty corner (2-0).
Two consecutive Kenyan penalty corners as well as a couple of other opportunities went astray but much of their disappointment had to do with solid SA defending.
However, an inspired Aura was not throwing in the towel just yet and a good strike from the skipper was followed by two more from Franklin Wanangwe and Allan Iningu as the Kenyans began manufacturing holes in the SA defence.
Eight minutes from half-time Kenya’s third PC brought whoops of delight from their boisterous fans as Wanangwe netted from the rebound, but cool, calm and collected striker Hykes controlled the ball well before restoring SA’s two-goal lead.
However, Kenya were not done just yet and Aura scored from yet another incursion into the SA circle within a minute of half-time.
Turning around a slender 3-2 up, South Africa had been far from impressive and Kenya continued to unsettle them as penalty corners mounted steadily in their favour, but SA broke away and Rhett Halkett set up the outstanding Norris-Jones to make the final pass for Paton’s electrifying finish.
Soon after, Reid-Ross went low to fire SA into a 5-2 lead and not long after Carr made it 6-2 from another PC set-piece. Paton got another for 7-2 before Reid-Ross nailed his hat-trick. Near the end, Willis Okeyo gave the Kenyans some reward for their endeavour with a good goal.