Johannesburg – Head coach Gregg Clark was disappointed with the South African men's hockey side after they threw away a 4-1 lead to draw 4-4 against Japan in their opening match of the Champions Challenge in Quilmes, Argentina, on Saturday.
South Africa had taken the initiative in a number of matches at the Olympic Games in August, but they went on to lose those games, and Clark admitted their failure to capitalise was becoming a habit.
“It's disappointing to surrender a result from such a strong position again,” Clark said.
“It's an aspect we are determined to put right, because if we bank results from the positions we are getting into, the fruits will be in the form of strong finishes at world-level tournaments.”
The South Africans scored through debutant strikers Grant Glutz and Ignatius Malgraff, and they netted twice more from field play through Lloyd Norris-Jones and Nic Gonsalves.
Tim Drummond might have conjured up the winner near the death but his shot across goal slammed into the far post and stayed out.
Clark believed, while they had given away the full quota of points in the game, there were still plenty of positives for his side.
“Goals on debut for Malgraff and Glutz, and a first international goal for Gonsalves. Norris-Jones scored a great diving deflection too,” he said.
“And with two-and-a half minutes to go, to steal the points, we hit the post.”
Team manager Darryn Gallagher was also pleased with some of the aspects of their performance.
“We were fantastic in the opening 11 minutes of the second half where we scored three goals,” Gallagher said.
“The team played a real positive brand of hockey, we had purpose and our execution was superb.”
The South Africans, with four debutants, eight players sharing a meagre 20 Tests and the lowest average number of caps (32) in the competition, were rocked in the second minute when Toshiro Tachibana opened the scoring.
The South Africans hit back with four goals in 21 minutes, but the never-say-die Japanese were intent on exacting revenge for their agonising 2-1 defeat to South Africa in the Olympic qualifying tournament final in May, and Kazuhiro Tsubouchi’s field goal in the 47th minute was reinforced by Toshiro Tachibana's penalty corner.
Katsuyoshi Nagasawa buried another penalty corner with five minutes left for the equaliser.
“After Japan's second goal our players went into their shells,” Gallagher said.
“We let ourselves down in the last 20 minutes with soft errors.
“If we play with real belief for the full 70 minutes we could see some special results.”
South Africa were set to play their second Pool B match against hosts Argentina, who fought back to beat Ireland 4-3 in their opening match, on Sunday night.
In Pool A clashes on Saturday, new Malaysia head coach Paul Revington – the South African who piloted the men in green and gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 World Cup – guided his team to a 4-0 whitewash of Poland, while top seeds South Korea defeated Canada 2-0. – Sapa