The South Africa men’s and women’s teams continued their winning ways with back-to-back victories in the Greenfields Africa Hockey Championships at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Tuesday. In the earlier game the SA women beat Zimbabwe 6-0 while the SA men beat Ghana 4-0. The SA/Ghana clash had huge implications as the winners were likely to come top of Pool A and in so doing avoid impressive Pool B frontrunners Egypt in Saturday afternoon’s semi-finals. SA had central defender Rhett Halkett in the side for the first time in this event, having returned home from club duty in Germany.
Ghana talisman Johnny Botsio immediately indicated the threat he poses down the left with his blistering speed while SA striker Julian Hykes demonstrated the same pace at the other end. Both defences were under pressure and midway through the first quarter it was SA striker Pierre De Voux who supplied the first serious threat on goal with some neat stickwork along the left-side baseline but the Ghana defence held firm. Massive physical contacts were coming thick and fast, and umpires Tony Fernandes of Kenya and Egypt’s Elsayed Ahmen had their hands full.
From the outset it was the sort of contest where volatility was always bubbling under the surface. Ghana were defending bravely and relying on swift breakouts from deep, while SA used width and good ball movement to dominate territory and possession but the teams went into the first-quarter break still level 0-0. Superb flat-stick tackling by Ghana captain Salya Nsabini denied a threatening thrust down the right by the skilful Richard Pautz, but Lloyd Norris-Jones made the most of a fine counter-move soon after to win a penalty corner.
And Matt Guise-Brown stepped up to unwind a bullet drag-flick that ballooned the net, SA going 1-0 up in the 20th minute. Both sides had chances after the re-start in this match-up played at a frenetic pace. And both sides incurred the displeasure of umpire Ahmed and had players banished to the sin-bin, the teams going into half-time with SA 1-0 up. Just 14 seconds after the changeover SA keeper Rassie Pieterse made a fine save, this after Samuel Afari got in as hot from inside the six-yard area.
SA hit back and keeper Jeffrey Karikari made an assured save from a Hykes reverse-stick blast. Hykes then lashed a shot from the top of the strike zone that flashed over the crossbar. Ghana were dealt a blow when Botsio was sin-binned and SA capitalised to win a PC, whch soon led to another, much to consternation of the vociferous Ghanaian fans. Salt was rubbed in when Guise-Brown opted to go low this time with his drag-flick and SA were 2-0 up in the 40th minute.
With Botsio back on, Ghana won a PC and Pieterse did well to save Nsalbini’s drag-flick before being called into action soon after but the score stayed at 2-0 to the host nation at the close of the third quarter. Three minutes into the fourth quarter (48th) Norris-Jones weaved past defenders at will to open space and time for Pautz to slap the ball into the backboard (3-0). Two minutes later the Norris-Jones wizardry set up Hykes to establish a four-goal cushion (4-0 with 10 minutes left).
Both teams made a goalkeeper change with nine minutes left, Eugene Acheampong replacing Karikari and Jacques Le Roux coming on for Pieterse, who was called into action as Ghana won three PCs. There was goalmouth action at the other end too but the final score remained 4-0 to SA. In the women’s match Lilian Du Plessis scored from her team’s fourth penalty corner, flicking high into the net for SA to go 1-0 up in the 16th minute.
The deceptive Jade Mayne put SA 2-0 up in the 22nd minute. SA earned a PC four minutes from half-time and a stunning variation saw Nicole Walraven finish off for 3-0 to the girls in green and gold at the changeover. SA scored again in the 43rd minute when Shelley Russell got off the first shot and Bernie Coston capitalised from the goalmouth melee (4-0). In the 52nd minute great dribbling skills by Celia Evans of SA down the left eventually led to Illse Davids making it 5-0.
Four minutes from the end (56th ) fine skill by Bernie Coston along the right-side baseline saw her pop-pass to Candice Manuel helped on its way to Du Plessis at the far post who dinked the ball over the goalline for the 6-0 final score. The SA women and men have a bye Wednesday before a double header Thursday when the women face Kenya at 16:45 and the men tackle Namibia at 19:00.
Photo credit: Marcel Sigg