It’s the final countdown for the South African men’s squad and the SA women’s team as the days shorten before the Greenfields African Hockey Championships kicks off at Randburg Hockey Stadium in Johannesburg Friday. The SA women’s side have been working hard at Randburg for over a week while the SA men’s squad are a couple of days into their training stint ahead of the naming of the 18 players Wednesday who will represent the national men’s team in the continent’s premier competition. The prize for the respective tournament winners is qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and finals day on Sunday, November 1 is a much-anticipated event for hockey fans across the continent.
Nine men’s teams; South Africa (world number 15), arch-continental rivals Egypt (20) plus Africa’s combative Kenya (39) and Ghana (41) sides, as well as lesser-known Zimbabwe (55), Tanzania (73), Namibia, Nigeria and Botswana (all unranked) will be crossing swords in what is the final qualifying competition for next year’s Olympics. Pool A features five countries; defending champions SA along with the 2013 event’s fourth-placed Ghana, plus Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. The silver medallists two years ago in this biannual competition, Egypt, top Pool
B ahead of bronze medallists Kenya, who were the hosts at City Park Stadium in Nairobi, with Tanzania and Nigeria making up the field.
The top two teams in each pool qualify for the semi-finals on Saturday, October 31 and that will then determine who plays in the Sunday, November 1 final. Seven teams are set to compete for the women’s crown; reigning champs South Africa (ranked 11th in the world), the 2013 finalists Ghana (31), as well as Kenya (37), Tanzania (46), Nigeria (53), Zimbabwe (55) and Namibia (unranked). The women’s will play in a round-robin format.
The team with the most points by the end of the round-robin will win the right to be the African continent’s representative at the Rio Olympics. With the SA women’s team selection done and dusted a few weeks ago, the immediate interest among fans of the green and gold is who will be the fortunate 18 men to win the selectors’ nod. Much hinges on the combinations the brains trust opt for, while the balance of the team and the ability to withstand the combustible nature of African hockey are also critical.
At the back, players who are well and truly in the mix and possess the necessary BMT for red-hot Africa continent moments are experienced central defenders Rhett Halkett and Jethro Eustice, while iron man left half Matt Guise-Brown also has the penalty corner drag-flick component in his arsenal, as does the classy Daniel Bell. It is perhaps up front that the selectors’ biggest headaches make arise. Do they go for attacking midfielders who can also fulfil the striker role or do they opt for out-and-out hitmen in the Julian Hykes and Natius Malgraff mould.
A man who could arguably fill both roles would be Dan Sibbald. The outcome of the mix-and-match should be known Wednesday.
Randburg Hockey Stadium
Fri, Oct 23: SA men vs Zimbabwe (19:00)
Sat, Oct 24: SA women vs Nigeria (14:30); SA men vs Botswana (16:45)
Mon, Oct 26: SA women vs Namibia (19:00)
Tues, Oct 27: SA women vs Zimbabwe (16:45); SA men vs Ghana (19:00)
Thurs, Oct 29: SA women vs Kenya (16:45); SA men vs Namibia (19:00)
Fri, Oct 30: SA women vs Tanzania (19:00)
Sat, Oct 31: Men’s semi-finals 14:00 and 16:00
Sun, Nov 1: SA women vs Ghana (11:30); Men’s 3rd/4th place (14:00); Men’s Final (16:30)
Photo credit: ACTION PIX