The SA Hockey Men headed to Egypt on the back of some interesting times. They had failed to impress at the FIH World League and found themselves in the Wooden Spoon match. Coach Fabian Gregory had signed to move on to coach in Hong Kong and the information leaked during the tournament. An interim head coach had to be announced and some key players were unavailable for various reasons. It was set to be the toughest African Cup of Nations yet with many fearing the possibility that Egypt would pip the South Africans.
That fear seemed to grow when South Africa struggled to a 3-2 win against Ghana requiring a late Taine Paton goal to win the game. South Africa then was held in a titanic struggle with the hosts to draw 3-3. Although there were comfortable victories against Kenya and Nigeria, the Egyptians were looking good and were playing in front of a vociferous and pretty hostile crowd.
South Africa would have it all to play for in the final against the Hosts for an eight consecutive Continental championship. It would get even tougher as Ahmed Elganaini put the hosts ahead in the 8th minute. South Africa would miss a few opportunities but class shines at the right time and Taine Paton, playing in his 99th test match, rocketed a loose ball into the top right corner with 20 minutes remaining.
Rassie Pieterse was called into action after mostly being a spectator and the double save he produced to deny Egypt in itself was as important as what Jethro Eustice. JET, as he is known, would wait until the 58th minute to fire in a perfectly heighted drag flick past a brilliant Mohamed in goals for Egypt to seal the victory and South Africa’s spot in FIH Hockey World Cup. It’s notable that it was JET that scored the goal as he is a fine ambassador for hockey in South Africa, both indoor and outdoor!
In the process, Sheldon Rostron, South Africa’s interim head coach, had emulated the great Argentine coach Carlos Retegui by leading a Men’s and Women’s teams to gold medals at the same tournament!
South Africa will now have the opportunity to work towards securing sponsorships, getting our best players available and building our World Ranking (Which was hurt by missing the Olympic Games) as we go towards the Commonwealth Games and the FIH Hockey World Cup.
Today is a great day to be Proudly South African!