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SA’s six of the best

Our men’s hockey team took another step closer to realising their Olympic dream in London later this year when they won their second match of the Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan.

Gregg Clark’s men ground out a 6-2 victory over an obdurate Czech Republic in the early hours of Saturday morning after leading 4-1 at half-time. This followed Thursday’s 11-1 thrashing of Brazil.

Saturday’s ugly, ill-tempered affair did not do justice to the most beautiful of spring days and sin-bin cards did little to cool tempers, reports Jon Cook. Justin Reid-Ross took his tally to six in the tournament with a field goal and penalty corner, while field goals from Tim Drummond, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Lance Louw and Thornton McDade completed the SA scoring. Martin Seemann and Stepan Bernatek netted field goals for the Czechs.

Second-favourites Japan beat the Czechs 6-0 on day one. The stakes rise significantly for SA Monday when they take on third-favourites China at 11.30am SA time.

In the third minute an inspired Andrew Cronje through-ball to Julian Hykes was followed by a strong Ian Haley snap shot, which brought the first PC. Reid-Ross made no mistake, his drag-flick ricocheting off keeper Filip Neusser’s glove (1-0).

In the seventh the disruptive Czech defenders couldn’t stop Hykes from threading his way through for Drummond to finish (2-0). Haley then set up Wade Paton whose reverse-stick rocket flashed over the crossbar.

With SA playing all the hockey, the match threatened to get ugly as delaying tactics negated the free flow of the game and a Czech was consigned to the sidelines, but completely against the run of play Seemann did very well to pull a goal back (2-1).

Norris-Jones got in two shots and Hykes ones as SA regained composure, and with seven left in-form SA skipper Austin Smith set up Norris-Jones for a great goal, the striker running intelligently into space before finishing with aplomb (3-1). Martin Babicky shot just wide at the other end before Smith teed up for Louw to nail SA’s fourth after the left-side defender had stolen up the left flank unnoticed (4-1).

With two left SA keeper Rassie Pieterse saved from Stepan Bernatek before first wave Jonty Robinson ran down the Czech’s first PC, prevent potent drag-flicker Tomas Prochazka from making his presence felt. On half-time SA’s second PC was comfortably saved by Neusser.

Five minutes after the changeover the Czechs grabbed a rare bite of possession and Bernatek buried his shot into the backboard (4-2). Norris-Jones played intelligently to earn SA’s third PC but again it was saved. With 20-odd minutes left, both sides squared up toe to toe and tempers threatened to boil over into something extremely serious. Vilem Topek was sin-binned.

Drummond won possession and SA came close to scoring their fifth as the entire Czech team were massed in the defensive third. More sin-bin cards were dished out. Undaunted, SA kept playing the hockey and Reid-Ross scored from out left, further underlining South Africa’s massive advantage in entries into the strike zone (5-2).

Five from time the Czechs won a hotly disputed PC ÔÇô and then another ÔÇô as tempers again flared to breaking point, and the slip left to Bernatek was palmed away by Pieterse. Then Hykes pressured a Czech into error and strike partner McDade finished superbly (6-2).