JOHANNESBURG - Looking to book their places in the 2018 World Cup, the South African men’s and women’s hockey teams will be hoping home-field advantage will further their cause at the World League Semi-Finals starting today.
The two-week showcase involving 20 of the world’s top teams at the Wits Hockey Club will also be an opportunity for redemption after missing last year’s Rio Olympic Games.
Finishing among the top four teams at the end of the tournament would not only guarantee the South African teams spots at the World Cup but also at the 2017 Hockey World League Finals.
The Proteas women will launch their campaign against India, ranked one spot ahead of them, while the men’s team open their account against Ireland six places above them.
Women’s captain and TuksSport/HPC athlete Nicolene Terblanche said they had set their sights on finishing the competition among the top teams.
“We would like to finish in the top four to earn our place in the World Cup and the World League Finals,” she declared.
“It is a tough tournament but we are positive about our chances and we believe we can do it.”
They face a mammoth task sharing Pool B with reigning Hockey Champions Trophy champions Argentina, the United States, India and Chile.
Terblanche believes the team are well prepared for the tournament after taking some confidence from their warm-up matches.
“We played three warm-up matches against England and Japan and there are a lot of positives we can take out of those games.
“We feel prepared, and ready with a few international games behind us.”
Pool A will see England, who will contain many of the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallists that represented Great Britain, Rio bronze medallists Germany, Japan, Ireland and Poland.
“We expect the United States and Argentina to be our toughest opposition in our pool,” Terblanche said.
“We have to do well in this tournament and while we didn’t go to the Olympics we've put that behind us.
“We are looking ahead with this tournament and it is important for SA hockey’s future.”
Pool A of the men’s tournament includes reigning World Cup champions Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Japan and France while South Africa are in Pool B where they will face Rio 2016 silver medalists Belgium, Olympic bronze medalists Germany, Ireland and Egypt.
Teams will also be awarded FIH Hero World Ranking points, which could prove crucial in relation to qualification for future events.