The Tale of Two Teams

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iol spt hockey CLINTON P GOAL CELEB V ARG WC 10 JUNE 2014 Fieldhockey.fr Clint Panther is congratulated by Julian Hykes, after scoring a brilliant goal against Argentina. FILE PHOTO: STANISLAS BROCHIER

The Hague - The Tale of Two Teams might be the book title when describing South Africa and counterparts Malaysia’s fortunes at men’s Hockey World Cup 2014 here in Holland.

They face-off in the 11th/12th place playoff match at 1.30pm in the Kyocera Stadium Thursday and it is a difficult one to call as far as a winner is concerned.

Both finished bottom of their Groups, both are winless, and both have suffered similar ailments. Unforced errors in defence and attack, leaking soft goals and blowing chances in the strike zone have been the themes.

Linked to this – and possibly the central theme – far too much ball has been given away or turned over by their sharper opponents.

Head coach Fabian Gregory’s SA side were desperately unlucky not to beat world number seven South Korea in their 0-0 draw in Group B and victory there would have guaranteed at least a 9th/10th playoff match – not bad for a side that only got together as a group of 18 two weeks before the opening match.

Yet here have been moments of sublime hockey from the African champs, none more so than University of Johannesburg midfielder Clint Panther’s wonderful solo goal against semi-finals Argentina in Tuesday’s final Group B match for the two countries.

Malaysia can also point to a 3-2 defeat by India and a 2-0 loss to world number four England as two Group A matches that saw relatively close scores.

There are other similarities. Both sides have beaten and lost to each other in the recent past - and SA and Malaysia are 12th and 13th in the world rankings respectively.

Apart from wanting to avoid bottom place at the four-yearly showpiece, there are valuable world ranking points at stake.

Cleaning up their mistakes and sharpening the rapier in the strike zone will serve both sides well in what is a vital match for each.

Gregory, who is director of hockey at Glenwood High School in Durban in his day job, and his players have bravely faced an uphill battle against professional teams with full-time, paid players and countries that boast national programmes and training centres.

But as he has said at post-match Press conferences, South Africa is a proud nation of eternal optimists - and it that common characteristic in both sides that might make the difference in what is shaping up as an intriguing battle that not even the most seasoned observers one dare put money on.



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