Both the men’s and women’s SA hockey sides qualified for the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.
The women’s team fought off fatigue, both mentally and physically, after an exhausting week to beat New Zealand 6-3, finishing in the top four in their pool. Picture: @NamibiaHockey / Twitter
CAPE TOWN – After a challenging couple of years with regards to results, both the men’s and women’s SA hockey sides are on the right side of history this time.
Both sides, for the first time, qualified for the quarterfinals of the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup by defeating Argentina and New Zealand respectively at the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria on Thursday.
Starting with the men’s team, goal scoring machine Mustapha Cassiem delivered a sensational strike with less than 20 seconds left to give his team a dramatic 6-5 victory on the fifth day of the World Cup.
The hosts were forced to fend off repeated comebacks as the flair and passion of ‘Los Pumas’ kept them in the game until Cassiem pounced in the dying seconds.
He was in it from the outset when he raced downfield inside the first minute, and set up his brother Dayaan for a brilliant field goal. The South African star followed that up with a goal of his own to make it 2-0, but from then, it was a case of punch and counterpunch.
The Blitzstoks built a 5-3 lead in the third quarter, one of those being a brilliant reverse flick by Dayaan, but no indoor hockey game is ever completely safe, and Argentina made it 5-5 with four minutes remaining.
However, the South Africa players stayed patient, jumped on a mistake by their opponents, and Mustapha’s magical touch did the rest.
Hi @SA_Hockey 😉❤️ pic.twitter.com/uZl3b42S86
‘ Namibia Hockey Union (@NamibiaHockey) February 9, 2023
Mustapha Cassiem going solo! #IHWC2023 🔥
📱- Watch the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup 2023 worldwide on @watchdothockey (outside India).#IndoorHockey #HockeyEquals #HockeyInvites@SA_Hockey pic.twitter.com/bkdluM9q2c
‘ International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) February 9, 2023
Maintaining patience in the face of pressure was one of the key elements in South Africa’s victory, said skipper Jethro Eustice.
“I think we know that we have the ability to go on the counter, wait for a mistake, and then move the ball quickly to Mustapha or Dayaan in the circle. If we can do that, we know we have a goal-scoring opportunity.
“Of course, you must contend with the defence, but if you keep creating scoring opportunities, some of them must come off. And to score like that with less than a minute to go was just incredible.”
Cassiem has been the jewel in South Africa’s crown this week, but has been at pains to give the praise to his teammates.
And while nobody can win a match on their own, Eustice acknowledged his star player’s influence.
“We have to compliment his goal-scoring,” he said.
“He is a special player and we have been seeing him doing the same thing from the U14s, so it’s no surprise.
“Now he’s doing it on the international stage, and our focus must be on laying the foundation for him to use his abilities.”
Result – South Africa 6-5 Argentina @FIH_Hockey #IHWC2023 pic.twitter.com/4E50lb2Jqx
‘ SA Hockey (@SA_Hockey) February 9, 2023
Not too long after this stunning victory, the women’s team followed suit as they fought off fatigue, both mentally and physically, after an exhausting week to beat New Zealand 6-3, finishing in the top four in their pool.
It was no walk in the park, though, with New Zealand pushing them all the way, and at halftime, with South Africa leading 1-0, it was anybody’s game.
“We were really struggling a bit with our connections after a tough game last night, missing opportunities and all getting a bit frustrated and flustered,” O’Connor said.
“At halftime we said let’s just take it down a notch and keep better focus, concentrating on just one pass, and to stop being so frantic. We were able to do that and finally we started sinking some goals.
“It’s an amazing achievement, the highest we have finished in a tournament like this. We know we have a tough one [on Friday], so we will get some rest now and then try to focus on keeping the winning momentum.”
Besides O’Connor, the other South African goal-scorers were Tegan Fourie, Jessica Lardant, Daniela de Oliviera, Laiken Brisset, and Kayla de Waal.
Elation at the Heartfelt Arena for the South Africans as the Womens team defeat New Zealand to secure a spot in the Quarter-Finals on Friday night. https://t.co/PwXdzQeMGd pic.twitter.com/QL8qA1SxbY
‘ SA Hockey (@SA_Hockey) February 9, 2023