SA hockey men wary of Spain

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Austin_Smith6 Gallo Images SA captain Austin Smith.

Santander, Spain – South African skipper Austin Smith believes his side will have to shut down the Spanish midfield and not allow their hosts to get on the front foot when the sides meet on Monday at the Local Sports Hall of Santander in an unofficial Test on the newly-laid blue astro-turf.

“I hope we don't give the Spanish midfield and the forwards that much space,” Smith said.

“Their strength lies in their front six, and the opportunity for us lies in their back four (defenders).

“We will look to be as compact as possible and to turn the ball over and really exploit some of their defenders who are quite weak in some of their areas.”

SA have been buoyed by the return of their captain who missed four of his team's five opening matches of their European tour due to flu.

Smith, who completed a week-long series of antibiotics and returned to training on Saturday ahead of SA's matches against India and Spain, said he was looking forward to being back in action for his country.

“I've been for a few runs, I've had a few training sessions and I'm feeling much better.

“Obviously it will be tough in the first game not having done much for a week so I'm sure I will be quite tired, but its great to be back training again.

“It's been very frustrating but the fact that it has happened now and not in three weeks' time is maybe a blessing.”

The South Africans were in the stands for Spain's second Test against India on Saturday, where the team got their first taste of hockey on a blue strip, identical to the one London have for the Olympic Games later this month.

The South African captain said their hosts would be difficult to break down as they were an experienced outfit who could capitalise on any short-comings in their opponents' arsenal.

“The Spanish side, the team that they have picked in general have a lot of experienced players,” Smith said.

“Their front three have been playing together since Athens (2004 Olympic Games), so there's heaps of experience there.

“They are a side that always has the ability, because of their experience, to turn it on when they really need to.

“There will be moments of time where you will be on top of them and you'll be dominating, but the ability for them to suddenly step it up a couple of notches and catch you off-guard is always a threat with the Spanish side.”

Having watched most of the tour from the sideline thus far, Smith added that his side had done well to work themselves into good positions on the field and were capable of getting into their opponents' area but still had aspects of their game that need improving ahead of the Games.

“I think the quality of the pass from outside the 25-metre-area into the D (attacking area), we need a lot more attention to detail there,” he said.

“Often it isn't the final shot at goal that's going wide, in the area, its the pass to set that player up.

“At the moment I think the forwards are a bit isolated, so we are trying to get midfielders closer to the ball to support the attack.

“We are creating chances which is good and now we just need to fine-tune it and put them away.” South Africa were due to play India on Sunday, in the first unofficial match against the Spanish on Sunday. – Sapa


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