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.
Third-Place Game: China 5, Austria 3
China had no problem earning a third-place finish after a frenzied 5-3 win against Austria in the Olympic Qualifier’s bronze medal game.
It was clear from China’s body language that they were disappointed to only be playing for bronze, but nevertheless they showed up to win and at least got some consolation from the event with the bronze medals around their neck.
China owned a 3-1 lead at the break after a strong start. Liu Yiantang and Song Yi banged in convincing the field goals to take a quick 2-0 advantage. The teams exchanged short corner goals to close the first half scoring with Na Yubo scoring his seventh goal of the event for China.
The teams opened up the second half on fire, despite the stead drizzle dampening the mood. China scored the 4-1 goal nearly immediately after the opening whistle, but it was rapidly answered by Austrian captain Armin Stermitzer’s short corner goal, helping to keep his team within striking distance. Austria pulled to within one when Berhnardt Schmidt scored. But China was always just a half step ahead of the Austrians, and Yubo struck with his second of the game to restore the two-goal pad.
Yubo’s goal would be the last of the match, despite some fantastic chances on both sides in the waning minutes. Yubo was named the tournament’s Top Player for his strong performance throughout the two-weeks.
Fifth-Place Game: Czech Republic 5, Brazil 1
There was no placement game letdown for the Czech Republic in its second consecutive meeting against Brazil. The Czechs earned fifth place at the Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament after a 5-1 win.
Tomas Prochacka scored two luscious penalty corner goals in the first nine minutes and the Czechs never looked back. Stepan Bernatek also scored twice in the win with his goals being split between the first and second half. In between the Bernatek markers, Brazil scored its lone goal of the game in the first minute of the second half. Thiago Pacheco got his team on their feet with his first goal of the event. Martin Seemann closed the scoring with four minutes left to bring the final to 5-1.
The loss means Brazil goes home without any points from the qualifier, but the #42-ranked team earned valuable experience in its six outings and even went home with some hardware after getting the Fair Play trophy.
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