South Africa knew ahead of the start against a tough Japan side that a victory would move them into second and give the country an amazing opportunity to sneak into the final at our first ever Sultan of Johor Cup. The tournament is a great preparation event for the Junior African Championship in Egypt in March where teams will look to qualify for the FIH Hockey Junior World Cup 2023 in Malaysia.
Japan knew a victory would keep a small chance of qualification open for themselves and both teams had sufficient ambition to go out on the Johor pitch and make something special happen.
The two though were very evenly matched and a tactical and tense first half saw neither team able to take the initiative and get a lead. It was almost as if the two forces cancelled each other out as it was a game and first half of limited opportunities.
In the third quarter both teams looked to raise the tempo and create a couple more opportunities. And while they were somewhat successful in doing this the chances were truthfully limited in terms of quality and it remained goalless heading into the final 15 minutes.
Japan looked menacing early in the final quarter but met a determined South African defence led supremely by Calvin Davis. On the other end Marvin Simons was trying to get the position for the perfect deflection, but there was no supply for the forward.
It was Japan who would open the scoring with just 10 minutes left on the clock Yamato Kawahara turned over the ball in his circle before leading a sweeping counter attack and finishing the move superbly. The goal was followed by the games first penalty corner, in the 52nd minute, for Japan who were looking to land the killer blow. They weren’t able to as the South Africans defended superbly.
With 6 minutes remaining the South Africans were being frustrated by a very efficient Japanese performance and were finding it difficult to build significant possession periods. They withdrew their keeper for the final few minutes but gave away a penalty corner. They managed to keep it out and launch one final attack but it petered out and it was Japan who edged the game 1-0. A disappointing night for a team who had impressed in the tournament so far.
The final pool stage game is between South Africa and Australia on Friday at 14:35 South African time.