|May 6th, 2012|
|18||3:00pm||JPN - RSA||1 - 2 (0 - 0)||Final||x 4|
First-Place Game: South Africa 2, Japan 1
South Africa became the last team to join the 2012 London Olympic Hockey Tournament after winning the Men’s Olympic Qualifier in Kakamigahara, Japan with a 2-1 win over Japan. It will be South Africa’s third consecutive appearance at the Olympics.
South Africa entered the tournament as the top-seed, holding the #12 spot in the World Ranking. But the margin between the teams in Kakamigahara was thin, with Japan as the #15 team and bronze medalist China holding the #17 spot.
The balance of the teams was clear in a scoreless first half. South Africa may have held the advantage in terms of possession, but Japan’s chances were more dangerous as they used their trademark speed to keep South African goaltender Erasmus Pieterse on his toes. Things were visibly tense on the field and teams had to settle for a 0-0 draw at the break. It was shades of the round robin game between the teams earlier this week, which ended in a 3-3 draw with no team ever holding a clear advantage.
Thornton McDade ended the scoring silence when he slipped behind Japan goalkeeper Shunsuke Nagaoka with some fancy footwork and tapped in the 1-0 marker after nearly 45 minutes of scoring silence. With 16 minutes left, a great defensive play on a Japanese penalty corner chance led to a breakaway for South Africa and Lloyd Norris Jones doubled the South African lead.
But the game was far from over as the home stretch was a flurry of activity that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Japan pulled to within one when Kenji Kitazato ripped one into the net, making it a one goal game with six minutes left. Japan applied amazing pressure on South African in the waning minutes, but the South Africa defense withstood the attack and held on for the 2-1 win and the berth to the London Games.
It was a particularly long and bumpy Road to London for the South Africans, who thought they had their spot in the Games sealed after winning the Africa Cup last year, but had to go through the qualification tournament process to meet its National Olympic Committee’s guidelines. But both the men’s and women’s team took the challenge to heart and both persevered and will be in London.