The South Africa men’s hockey team played out a nerve-jangling 3-3 draw with Japan after the scores were locked 1-1 at half-time in their top-of-the log Olympic Qualifier Tournament match at Gifu Green Stadium, Kakamighara in Japan on Wednesday.
Barring the most bizarre upsets in Friday’s final round of matches, Japan and SA are now almost certainly through to Sunday’s 8am (SA time) final which will be televised live on SuperSport 6 and has as its prize the last ticket left for the men’s event at the London Olympics later this year.
With 10 minutes to the half-time break Japan won their first penalty corner somewhat controversially, from which keeper Rassie Pieterse made a great double save before captain Kawakami Kei pounced on the rebound (1-0). Four minutes later Ian Haley whipped in a speculative cross and Lloyd Norris-Jones was on hand to equalise (1-1).
Both SA’s equalisers came within minutes after Japan scoring.
Wade Paton and Julian Hykes set up Thornton McDade 16 minutes from half-time but goalkeeper Katsuya Takase narrowed the angle with slide-rule precision. With 10 minutes to the break Japan won their first PC somewhat controversially, from which Pieterse made a great double save before captain Kawakami Kei pounced on the rebound (1-0). Four minutes later the alert Ian Haley whipped in a speculative cross and the ever-present Norris-Jones was on hand to scramble in the equaliser (1-1).
Five minutes after the changeover defender Madsen did superbly to block a golden opportunity but the Japanese won their second PC soon after Nagasawa maintained their 100% success rate (2-1). SA combined with clockwork precision straight from the re-start for Norris-Jones to win his team’s second PC and Justin Reid-Ross took his tournament tally to eight with a drag-flick rocket launcher (2-2).
A clever Hykes dummy enabled McDade’s slap shot but the nippy Kenta Tanaka stole away to make it 3-2 midway through the second half. SA won their third PC straight away and this time Smith whose blistering drag-flick smashed into the cross bar and stayed out, much to the skipper’s disbelief.
Close calls came and went in both goal zones as play flew from end to end but Taine Paton’s nifty stickwork to win SA’s third PC was undone by keeper Takase’s glove save.
Then Andrew Cronje made a superb tackle to stem a Japanese one-two. In the last five minutes Japan were pinned in their defensive third and with two left SA won their fourth PC. But the lightning-quick first-wave defender ran Reid-Ross’s drag-flick down. Keeper Takase was miraculous but the fifth PC went SA’s way with 10 seconds left and Reid-Ross underlined why he is rated among the fastest drag-flickers in the world when he bulged the roof of the net to tie things up at 3-3.
South Africa’s final pool match is against lowly Austria on Friday while Japan have a tougher match against fellow Asian side China.