They said they were looking for a few big results in Tokyo, and the South African men’s hockey team managed to do just that – pulling off the biggest upset of the tournament so far by stunning Rio bronze medallists Germany on Thursday.
The remarkable 4-3 result against a team ranked nine places above them in the world keeps the South Africans’ faint quarterfinal hopes alive. But they would need all sorts of results beyond their control and goal difference permutations to fall in their favour.
Germany took an early lead from a penalty corner in the eighth minute, but the South Africans struck right back, Matthew Guise-Brown finding the back of the net off a penalty corner of their own a minute later.
Craig Keenan was next on the board to give the South Africans a goal advantage right at the end of the first quarter.
Another penalty corner provided Germany with their second goal of the match before Constantin Staib put them ahead just two minutes later.
The SA men were far from out of it though and Nic Spooner brought them right back with the equaliser off a counterattack inspired by Dayaan Cassiem at the end of the third quarter.
All square with just 15 minutes to play, it was the younger Cassiem brother, Mustapha, who scored three minutes into the final quarter. And the South Africans held on, staving off two penalty corners to record a famous victory.
An elated Mustapha Cassiem couldn’t contain his emotion at the final whistle. “I was just bursting into tears. It’s an emotional one and this one’s definitely for the people back home. For the families and just for the brothers alongside us,” he said.
“It’s always a special feeling and I think it could be an historical one as well. We just thought that we’re going to go out there and keep believing and I think that’s sport for you. If you have the belief, you have passion and you just keep going and empty the tank for 60 minutes.”
Scorer of SA’s first goal of the match, Guise-Brown added: “Yoh. I can’t put it in words, hey. We come into these tournaments and we’re big underdogs. We showed today how we can punch well above our weight. I’m actually quite emotional.
“Talk is cheap isn’t it? We have our team meetings and we sit around and we talk about our match, we back the system and back each other but the proof is in the pudding, isn’t it? Until you can actually do something, sitting in a circle talking about how you believe you can do it doesn’t make any difference, does it?”
“Germany are an exceptional side. They always peak come the Olympics, so for us as a group that’s huge. That’s huge.”
SA captain Tim Drummond added: “It’s awesome… We knew we had it in us and it’s just great for the guys to get this feeling now and hopefully we can remember this feeling.
“We’re going to enjoy this moment, but we also have a massive game against Canada tomorrow, so we’ve got to stay grounded and do our recovery and get ready for tomorrow.”
The South Africans’ next match against Canada is at 5:15am SA time on Friday.
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