South Africa’s men’s side did not show any inclination to back down against the powerhouse Germany team and were left to lament what could have been as they went down 4-3 to the number three ranked side in a thrilling Hockey World League Semifinals match at the Wits Astro on Thursday night.
South Africa have lost all of their 11 previous meetings with Germany but they came out and dominated the first quarter without making any impact on the scoreboard.
They had a couple of short-corners and Ryan Julius was presented an opportunity from close range, and if any of those chances had been taken, it may well have led to an historic result for the home side.
Germany then made them pay for their wastefulness as they took the lead in the 28th minute through Moritz Trompertz.
South Africa had a tough time in the opening minutes of the third quarter as Germany really turned the screw, adding two more goals in the first four minutes to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Austin Smith then showed that he should be South Africa’s chief drag-flicker at penalty corners as he fired an absolute rocket into the top-left corner after Nqobile Ntuli’s narrow miss.
Even though South Africa almost immediately conceded a soft goal to Timm Herzbruch (4-1), the match still came down to a thrilling conclusion as the home side refused to back down.
German goalkeeper Mark Appel could not keep out another Smith short-corner flick in the 50th minute, the former captain, celebrating his 150th cap, this time going low left.
South Africa, and a supportive crowd, truly began to believe they could make history when Jonty Robinson slid in for a brilliant deflection goal at a short-corner.
A final-minute short-corner earned by Matthew Guise-Brown provided the opportunity for a Smith hat-trick and a fairytale comeback, but it was not to be as this time Appel was able to save the flick.
While coach Fabian Gregory was quick to say how proud he was of his team, he added that South Africa had only themselves to blame for not sealing an historic win.
“I’m really proud of the guys because we have not run Germany close at a major event in forever and previously, when we were three or four down, the opposition would quickly get away. But we had some super chances out there and we only had one poor chukka, but that cost us. Just after halftime, I thought the guys would be switched on, but they were a bit too exuberant in chasing the game.
“We had so many opportunities, some really good chances at short-corners, and if Ryan Julius had taken that chance early on to put us one-up, it would have been a different game. We finished so well, but I was just disappointed by the attacking execution, we were good for another goal,” Gregory said.