It was a pulsating match between the fifteenth-ranked SA hockey men’s team that ended in a 1-1 draw against Canada, ranked four places higher in the second group C match-up.
With both sides having lost their openers, it was important that both teams do well, as the losing team would have to face early elimination from the FIH Hockey World Cup. With the former SA men’s coach, Gregg Clerk, in the Canadian camp, Team SA knew ahead of their match that they had to add extra effort.
Hungry for a win, Team SA started the match with much energy, aiming for a goal difference already in the first half. Canada knew that a draw would suit them slightly better and created numerous chances for themselves.
For the South Africans, the best opportunity in the half came through a superb piece of work by Nic Spooner down the left-hand side before setting up Bili Ntuli, who was unable to direct his effort into the goal.
Team SA were awarded three penalty corners in the half, with one goal, in particular, superbly saved by Canadian David Carter.
Although South Africans might be disappointed that they were unable to make their penalty corner dominance count throughout the match, they are glad of a world-class save by their own Rassie Pieterse.
Having been mostly a spectator for the first half, Pieterse was called into action on the verge of half-time and produced a superb save to deny Scott Tupper, serving as a reminder to the African Champions that all the pressure counted for nothing if they couldn’t put a goal on the scoresheet.
A superb goal, however, did come for Team SA in the second half as Bili Ntuli, brother to Sihle Ntuli, one of the assistant coaches, received the ball under immense pressure, created space for himself and shot a beautiful tomahawk into the corner. It was an emotional moment for the younger brother, who had wanted to score at the World Cup in honour of his late sister, who passed away in February.
The lead did not last long enough. Canada levelled the score when their second penalty corner beat Gowan Jones and hit Rhett Halkett’s foot on the line. The penalty stroke, rightfully awarded, was dispatched by Scott Tupper.
Even though Team SA created numerous goal-scoring opportunities later, including another four penalty corners, they unfortunately could not finish any one of them. When the final whistle blew, it was evident that the Canadians were pleased that they had escaped with a point, meaning Team SA would have to fight for it in the final group game against Belgium.
Group C results
South Africa 1-1 Canada
India 2-2 Belgium
Group C standings after 2 rounds (goal difference in brackets)
1. India 4 pts (+5)
2. Belgium 4 pts (+1)
3. Canada 1 pt. (-1)
4. South Africa 1 pt. (-5)
Group C fixtures
13:30 South Africa vs. Belgium
15:30 India vs. Canada
Photo: South African men’s team celebrate after Bili Ntuli put SA ahead, supplied by FIH