'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we feature the men's national team of South Africa.
South Africa enters the competition in 12th place in the FIH World Rankings with 1130 points and are the highest ranked African nation. They have played in three of the last four Olympic Games, twice finishing tenth while in Beijing they ended up in last position of the 12 entrants. Tenth place was also garnered from the 2010 World Cup in Delhi while their most recent Champions Challenge showing saw them finish third on home turf, just one place off their best ever performance (2001) in the same competition. In continental competition, South Africa have won the African Cup of Nations six times in a row.
The Road to London:
Perhaps the most complicated route to London, they won the African Olympic qualifier last September with a 1-0 victory over Egypt in the final. Under pre-agreed stipulations with the nation’s Olympic council (SASCOC), they declined to take up that ticket and went into the qualifiers and were drawn to play in Japan. Despite draws against the tournament hosts and Austria, they qualified for the final and goals from Thornton McDade and Lloyd Norris-Jones helped them to a 2-1 victory over Japan and qualification.
Players to Watch:
Justin Reid-Ross has proven himself as one of the world’s hottest penalty corner experts, netting as many goals in the Dutch Hoofdklasse as Dutch legend Taeke Taekema in the past season. Add in a dynamic presence from the back, either in the centre or over-lapping down the flanks, and he is one of the star performers. Lloyd Norris-Jones and Thornton McDade can provide flashes of inspiration up front. Skipper Austin Smith is the team’s spiritual and actual leader, captaining the side in over half of the international games he has played.
Gregg Clark returns for his second Olympics as coach and fourth in total. As a player, in a career spanning over a decade, he played in both the Atlanta and Athens Games. He was named South Africa’s player of the year in 1998 while team highlights include a silver medal in the 2001 Champions Challenge and a bronze in the same competition in 2003. He quickly transferred the knowledge learned from his playing career to help guide his homeland to Beijing and he remains at the helm for this campaign.
Mental toughness, the chemistry between the players and the bond they have created from tours a long way from home is central to their collective spirit. A growing number of players have gained top level club experience in Europe has also helped their mentality, stripping away some of the mystique and intimidation of encountering players from the top nations to show the gap is not as vast as previously envisaged.
Location, location, location. Like their women’s side, playing regular, competitive fixtures is tough with opposition in short supply in their vicinity at the base of Africa, especially without a major sponsor to help fund their travels. Their qualification route was probably the longest of any side, having to peak three times in 12 months – for the African Games last September and then for April’s qualifier in Japan – is a draining task and their European tour seemed to portray this, falling 4-2 to Ireland and conceding five set piece goals – albeit in a 6-5 win – against Scotland.
The tournament’s lowest ranked side, it is tough to see them in the mix when the medals are being handed out. Opening against Australia is a tough break but subsequent matches against Pakistan and Spain are likely to tell Gregg Clark’s men more about themselves. Making it into the fifth to eighth place playoffs would represent a strong showing in the group stages. Their recent 3-2 win over Belgium in Dublin, though, will be a confidence booster, taking silverware from the UCD 3 Nations series. But matching the world’s top sides looks a bridge too far.
Posted 3 hours ago.
The semi-final picture is complete at the Rabo Bank World Hockey League tournament in Rotterdam. World #1 and host...
Posted 6 hours ago.
Korea played a solid game of hockey today against Belgium and was rewarded with a spot in Thursday’s semi-final...
Posted 9 hours ago.
Germany had its hands much fuller than expected in its quarterfinal meeting against 18th-ranked Chile. It wasn’t...
Posted 10 hours ago.
New Zealand became the first team to earn a berth in the Semi-Finals at the Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Finals...
Posted 11 hours ago.
ENGLAND: We’re delighted to announce that England Hockey’s Chief Executive Sally Munday has been awarded an MBE...
Posted 1 day ago.
The FIH will announce the 2012 FIH Women’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year as part of the...