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Hockey News of Saturday, 27 February 2010

Source: Daily Dispatch (South Africa)

Ghana Play South Africa in Finals

THE African Youth Olympic hockey qualifiers come to a head today when the identities of the continents boys and girls winners will be revealed.

Hosts South Africa will be a common denominator in both of today’s U17 finals as first the girls take on Namibia at 2.30pm before the boys face the powerful Ghanaians at 5pm.

And after Ghana sent a chilling warning with a comprehensive 4-1 thrashing of previously unbeaten Egypt on Thursday – the only team to beat the SA boys side in the pool stage – it is on the unbeaten girls’ shoulders that South Africa’s best chance of victory may rest.

With the 1-1 to Ghana their only blemish, the table topping SA girls aide will fancy their chances against Namibia after goals from the new “darling from Buffalo Flats” Tiffany Jones and Kirsty Gibbings saw them to a 2-1 victory over today’s opponents in the group stage.

And while the result might suggest a close encounter, the Namibians were outplayed for most of the game and there was always only going to be one winner. That performance as well as the thrashings of Kenya (10- 0) and Zimbabwe (7-0) is apt testimony to why coach Jeanette Mackie’s girls go into the final as odds-on favourites.

And, if the SA boys’ performance against Kenya on Thursday is anything to go by – especially when you factor in Ghana’s 4-1 demolition of the technically, and tactically, gifted Egyptians – it is hard to see the home country win both finals.

But, that is not to say the SA boys will be cannon fodder for the ultra- fit Ghanaians, far from it, as coach Brendan Carolan side are arguably the more talented man-for- man.

SA’s problem, as evidenced on Thursday, is their tendency to be too individualistic and therefore unable to gel as a team – an undeniable strength of the energetic and powerfully built West Africans.

Added spice for today’s finals, from a SA perspective, is the fact that in the event of victory in both the boys and girls events, only one team will earn the right to represent SA at the Youth Olympics in August.

This, because of a SA African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) ruling that stipulates that each code can only be represented by one team. Tournament media spokesperson Tim Stirk confirmed as much to the Dispatch prior to the start of the tournament.

“That is the conundrum. Sascoc rules are that only one code will be taken to the Olympics. Which means that if both the SA boys and girls win their sections then only one will go. Another code will then be brought in,” said Stirk.

Play starts as early as 7am when the winless Zimbabwe boys team take on Namibia for the fifth place playoff. They will then be followed by the Zimbabwean girls, at 9.30pm, who will battle it out with Ghana for third place. Egypt boys will then take on Kenya in the third place playoff at noon before the serious fun starts. - By DOMINIC PEEL