JOHANNESBURG – The Proteas team will be looking to crack the top 10 at the men's Hockey World Cup in India starting today - but they have quite the hill to climb starting with their first assignment.
The team will kick off their campaign today (3.30pm SA time start) against hosts India, who are the fifth-ranked team in the world and will be a tough first assignment.
At the previous edition of the tournament in the Netherlands, the Proteas men finished in 11th place, having suffered four defeats and conceding 21 goals, while they managed a goalless draw with South Korea.
They beat Malaysia 6-2 in the 11th place play-off to avoid the wooden spoon.
South Africa will feature at the World Cup for the sixth time and they will be looking to improve on their previous best 10th place finishes from 2010 and 1994.
National coach Mark Hopkins was optimistic about the chances of his charges causing an upset or two at the global showpiece ahead of the team’s departure.
“I am incredibly optimistic, I believe this group of athletes have the potential to come back from the World Cup as history makers,” he said. “I am really challenging these athletes to land back in South Africa as the best hockey team the country has ever sent to the World Cup.”
The team can expect an even steeper mountain in their second match on Sunday when they go up against the world’s third ranked team Belgium.
Their third pool match against Canada, ranked four places ahead of them, could give them a bit of a reprieve.
The South Africans are coming off a 3-0 series defeat to the French which was played in Johannesburg earlier this month.
They opened the series with a 2-2 draw before losing their remaining three matches 4-1, 3-1 and 2-1.
While the results may not have gone their way against the French, the preparations ahead of the World Cup have been better than they were going into the Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
This has given both Hopkins and his charges a reason for optimism, even though the team is one of the lowest ranked sides in the tournament.
A quick shot of what @theanalyst_guru was working on so hard over the past 3 weekends to ensure every detail of our matches were analyzed for us to prepare for World Cup. Your expertise have been a huge asset to our team 🏑🇿🇦🔥& a big thanks you to St Johns for the support pic.twitter.com/YaAXkB4XRP— SA Hockey Men (@SA_Hockey_Men) November 13, 2018
“The entire squad has focused on building our brand and culture off the pitch and our style on the pitch,” Hopkins said ahead of the tournament.
“I am extremely excited by the squad that is going to represent South Africa at the FIH Hockey World Cup, and humbled by the work behind the scenes to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible.
“We have selected a squad that is able to play a style of hockey that will get the most out of our talents and also compete against some of the best in the world.”
World number one ranked Australia are considered the overwhelming favourites to lift their third consecutive title after claiming the 2014 and 2010 titles in Holland and New Delhi respectively.@ockertde