Everything went wrong for South Africa’s men’s side in a nightmare first half in which they conceded seven goals.
They managed to regroup to an extent and eventually lost 9-1 to Belgium in their Hockey World League match at the Wits Astro on Monday night.
While South Africa were undeniably poor, flatfooted and always half-a-yard off the pace of the game, credit must also go to Belgium for a dazzling first half in which everything they touched turned to gold, thanks to some ruthless finishing.
The home side, except for 18-year-old Dayaan Cassiem, waging a lone battle as he ran impressively up front, showed little of the fight that had characterised their women’s side in their memorable win over the USA the night before.
The first 20 minutes were bad enough for South Africa as they found themselves 3-0 down, Belgium scoring through an Alexander Hendrickx short-corner goal, Nicolas de Kerpel one-timing a loose ball into the roof of the net for a wonder-goal, and then captain Thomas Briels scrambling in the third.
Except it would get worse as Belgium then piled on four goals in the last five minutes of the first half.
South Africa coach Fabian Gregory said the mentality of the shellshocked team for the second half was just to make it a contest, which they succeeded in doing.
“In the first half we made unforced errors, our basic skills were non-existent and we could not keep the ball, and you cannot do that against a world-class team like Belgium, they punished us every time, but I was disappointed by some of the soft goals we let in.
“The second half was the type of hockey I expect from the team after a really disappointing first half. It was about how much we could compete, we said we were starting again at 0-0 and we will try and salvage something from the game,” Gregory said afterwards.
South Africa’s lone goal was scored by Matthew Guise-Brown, who fired a superb short-corner drag-flick into the top-right corner.
They had a handful of other good chances in the second half.
Gregory said he was particularly unhappy that his team did not stick to the strategy that had been decided beforehand.
“If I’m brutally honest, the team did not execute tactically what we asked for, the application of that strategy was terrible and that’s why we did not cope well with the Belgian press.”
South Africa will now play a promotion/relegation game against Japan on Friday and will be desperate to stay up in the elite Hockey World League.
Germany, Belgium, Ireland and Egypt will go through to the quarterfinals from Pool B, to play France, New Zealand, Spain and Australia respectively.