Friday was South Africa men’s hockey team head coach Charlie Pereira’s 51st birthday and his players would dearly like to reward the former SA midfielder with a win against Brazil on Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to celebrate their mentor’s first match as coach, writes Jon Cook.
The former SA vice-captain played 49 times for SA and Wednesday represents his first big test as coach ÔÇô he is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring his charges are read for the challenge in this their first match in the World League Round 2 event, where the prize is entry to the WL semi-finals.
The SA team will be captained by Rhett Halkett and apart from Brazil will tackle tournament favourites Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile and the USA.
The top two teams at the conclusion of the Rio round-robin tournament will qualify for the two World League men’s semi-finals events, which will take place in Rotterdam, The Netherlands from June 13 to 23, and in Johor Bahru, Malaysia from June 29-July 7.
Those countries that qualify for the World League semi-finals in The Netherlands and Malaysia will be divided into each eight-team tournament on the basis of their world rankings and the top four in each semi-final event will go through to the eight-team final early next year.
The SA team arrived safe and sound in Rio on Friday and training is going very well according to Pereira. ÔÇ£We have had two sessions, with the practice game versus the USA on Saturday, which was played in our second session,ÔÇØ the SA coach said on Sunday.
ÔÇ£Friday’s training was obviously at a lower intensity with jet lag and lack of sleep proving difficult to overcome. Our recovery by Saturday was very good and we trained for 75 minutes and then played 25 and 20-minute halves against the USA. We were 3-0 up at half-time and eventually won 3-0, something we have been chatting about. We must attack the lead, and go for the jugular, 3-0 should become 6-0.ÔÇØ
Pereira said the SA lads are looking sharp. ÔÇ£I was amazed at the change from Friday. The recovery from travelling has been good and if we can push on and train hard we will be good for Brazil Wednesday. We had a penalty corner session Saturday afternoon and apart from some small niggles everybody is fit and healthy. We had to get GB [Matthew Guise-Brown] onto an antibiotic for an infection in his thigh.ÔÇØ
Pereira said he and trainers Craig Fulton and Pierre le Roux have made a small adjustment to the SA playing pattern that allows the team to attack more. ÔÇ£Our aim is to look for vertical progression and break lines so that we are then challenging the opposition defence. We also want to use the pace we have to get forward and be as direct as possible. Then of course we need to prepare the team in all aspects of our play, starting with outlet play from the back, positioning and link-up play in midfield and then our attack.ÔÇØ
SA MATCHES (SA time)
27 Feb vs Brazil (2 pm)
28 Feb vs USA (4 pm)
2 Mar vs Trinidad & Tobago (4 pm)
3 Mar vs Argentina (4 pm)
5 Mar vs Chile (2 pm)
SOUTH AFRICA MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
Miguel da Graca, Clint Panther, Ricky West, Oliver Whiteley, Rassie Pieterse (all Southern Gauteng); Lloyd Norris-Jones, Craig Haley, Ashlin Freddy, Austin Smith, Pierre de Voux (all Western Province); Taine Paton, Tim Drummond, Gowan Jones (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Jethro Eustice (KZN Inland); Jonty Robinson, Rhett Halkett (capt), Matt Guise-Brown (all Northern Blues); Julian Hykes (North West).
Management: Head Coach: Charlie Pereira. Trainers: Pierre le Roux and Craig Fulton. Physical Conditioning Coach: Rob van Ginkel. Video Analyst: Mo Malebye.