South Africa desperate to erase World Cup memory

Beaten 12-0 by Australia here, the Proteas eye a spot in semis

On other days, they can get a hiding from the best as well, as happened at the World Cup here in March when they crashed to a 0-12 defeat to Australia in a group game.

That is a memory coach Gregg Clark would love to erase as his team returns to the same venue, this time for the Commonwealth Games beginning on Sunday. Placed in Pool B along with England, Canada, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Clark’s men are not favourites for the title but they won’t be pushovers either. The coach said as much, as he looked at the competition positively.

“Hockey at the Commonwealth Games has been very strong traditionally,” said the South African. “If you look at it, out of the 12 teams at the World Cup, seven were Commonwealth countries. That shows the strength and depth of Commonwealth hockey,” he said.

Clark’s men played a practice match with Pakistan in the morning and had an encouraging 2-2 result, but he knows it will be much tougher in the actual competition. Lack of competitive matches, however, could trouble South Africa, eighth last time around.

“In terms of progression, we did not have many competitive matches since the World Cup. We had some challenges with the national federation. But as of now, we have a young team here who will get an important competition to learn and improve from,” he said.

Clark said despite lack of competitive play, efforts were made to iron out the shortcomings noticed at the World Cup. “We had a couple of good training camps to address our concerns. We were scoring good goals but we were also conceding a lot of goals. Our players have to realise that we can’t always attack and that defence is also important. Scoring off penalty corners and trying not to concede them were other areas we focused on,” he said.

India and South Africa have had many interesting duels, their last encounter ending in controversy at the World Cup. Video referrals were in focus in a match the teams drew 3-3, enabling India to play for the seventh position.

“This time we are not in the same pool and I am sure they have bigger goals here,” said Clark. “But we too would love to make the semifinals and a clash with India is possible if they come through from the other pool. Making the semifinal is in fact our first goal."

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