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2018 World Cup News
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South African hockey keeps chin Up (11/28/2018)
--Errol D’Cruz
One gets the feeling that taking on hosts India in their World Cup hockey opener before a vociferous partisan crowd isn’t quite the most daunting tasks South Africa are faced with. What the warriors of the Rainbow Nation are battling against is the issue of inadequate funding that stifles their hockey and prospects at the international level.

Coach Mark Hopkins, for one, actually relishes the challenge of playing India in front of a sellout Kalinga Stadium where the decibels from impassioned Indian fans works out to be the hosts’ 12th player. “We, however, see it as an opportunity to showcase our skills,” said the coach. “Sure, the crowd’s support could be an advantage but it could also put pressure on India themselves,” Hopkins added. South Africa have the personnel to deliver. In Austin Smith they have a defender with 161 caps and valuable experience with Reading in the English league.

Co-defender Rhett Halkett, a veteran of 152 internationals, assisted Mannheimer to the German league crown in 2017.

Tim Drummond is the midfield hub with 131 caps and Jethro Eustice, one short of 100 caps, threatens at penalty corners.

Julian Hykes (126), a striker, and Taine Patton (103), a midfielder, are the other “centurions” in the ranks with young attacking talent Nqobile Ntuli and defender Mea Mohamed eager to prove their worth in the World Cup.

South Africa, by the coach’s revelations, could gain further from the conditions and challenges in Bhubaneswar.

The format, for one, pleases the African champions whose best finish in the World Cup is 10th at Sydney 1994 and New Delhi 2010.

“Not only does it give us an opportunity to qualify for the quarterfinals should we finish third in our group (which also includes Belgium and Canada), we will gain a lot from playing as many international matches as we can,” Hopkins said.

“South African hockey falls short of funding. It makes it difficult to play as many test matches as we would like to. Moreover there’s the danger of players having to pay to attend camps for international tournaments,” the coach explained.

South Africa, sporting several players with European league experience, still endured a difficult route to Bhubaneswar.

After failing to seal a spot via the Hockey World League Semifinals at home where they finished a disappointing 9th, they were forced to qualify from the Africa Championship in Ismailia, Egypt. Egypt, who had beaten South Africa in the HWL Semifinals, drew the pool match and led 1-0 in the final when the two teams met again.

South Africa, though, overturned the deficit to win 2-1 and steal a World Cup spot, leaving their great African rivals runners-up for the umpteenth time in the con

tinental summit clash. It demonstrated yet again the resilience and doughtiness of South African hockey which has had much to accept and move on.

Twice were they denied by their own government sports wing of Olympic participation despite qualifying. The South African Sports Conferation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) deemed that both the men’s and women’s teams would be denied entry to the 2016 Rio Olympics should they not qualify via the World League. The competition in Africa, SASCOC contended was below par and the team needed to prove its worth via a world event. There were notions, though, that there were racial undertones to the decision as hockey is considered a “white person’s sport” in the country. In 2000, (National Olympic Committee of South Africa) NOCSA held similar views to prevent its men’s team travelling to Sydney.

New Zealand stepped in for South Africa in 2016. Argentina did likewise in 2000. Very interesting!Love it!Thanks for sharing! Reply Reply all Forward

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