Friday, 30 July 2021

Caribou And The South Africans

It will be the final time I write about the Caribou and their dreams in Tokyo as Team Canada's final game in the Summer Olympics took place on Friday at 1:15pm local time in Japan. The winless Canadian squad had their dreams dashed following losses to Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium, so it was all about pride under the hot sun at Oi Hockey Stadium as they took the pitch against South Africa. The Canadians could also prevent the South Africans from living their dream, though, as they had a chance to play spoiler on this afternoon!

The South Africans, who needed a victory against Canada, entered the game with a 1-3 record after shocking Germany the day before. That win allowed South Africa to carry hope with them into the game against Canada where a win, combined with a Germany loss later in the day, could propel the South Africans into the medal round. They'd have to put up a big number on Canada, however, if they hoped to close the goal differential used to break ties in the pool standings.

Souht Africa got their hopes rolling early when Nqobile Ntuli converted a pass from Nick Spooner at the two-minute mark following some impressive ball movement to open the game from South Africa. That goal put them ahead 1-0, and you could tell the South Africans were using the confidence of the win over Germany the day earlier to push them to another level. And that confidence continued when Dayaan Cassiem controlled the ball beautifully on the left side before finding Spooner in the circle who flicked it by Canadian goalkeeper Antoni Kindler at the nine-minute mark to put South Africa up 2-0! This is precisely the start that South Africa needed!

Canada, however, did not hang their heads and, instead, pushed back as they played with pride. They would be rewarded when Scott Tupper's flick on a penalty corner was neatly deflected by Mark Pearson on a beautiful set corner play at the 11-minute mark, and Canada was on the board as they cut the lead to 2-1.

Two minutes into the second quarter, the Canadians struck against as Keegan Pereira unleashed a strike that South African goalkeeper Erasmus Pieterse could not corral, and the lead built by the South African squad had evaporated as the teams sat square at 2-2. The two teams settled into more defensive play after that goal, but there were moments of offensive skills shown that went unconverted as the teams went into halftime still tied 2-2.

Four minutes after the break, Matthew Guise-Brown flicked a rebound off a short corner past Kindler to restore South Africa's lead at 3-2. Fin Boothroyd, who looked dangerous all tournament, finally capitalized on a chance in the 42nd minute for Canada when his flick eluded Pieterse to make it a 3-3 game as the two teams went into the final frame looking for that all-important final goal.

It seemed that both sides weren't content with giving up a goal, but neither side sat back as both teams had reasons for wanting a win. We'd see a goal scored at the 58th minute when, amazingly, Samkelo Mvimbi's strike while lying on the turf found its way past Kindler into the net, and South Africa had the 4-3 lead with less than two minutes to play! It would seem that South Africa's dreams would live!

Except Gabriel Ho-Garcia had other ideas. He wanted nothing to do with this South African victory, so he decided to change the narrative in a big way. Jamie Wallace centered a pass into the circle, and Ho-Garcia made no mistake in defelcting it past Pieterse to tie the game at 4-4 in the 59th minute! While it's not a victory, there was nothing short of beaming smiles and pats on the backs for the Canadians as the final horn sounded in the tied contest that seemed like South Africa may have done enough to win!

Canada will finish the tournament 0-4-1 with one point in sixth out of six teams in Pool B, and, officially, 12th out of twelve teams in tournament based on goal-differential. Japan finished with an 0-4-1 record in Pool A, but they were a -8 for the tournament while Canada, suffering blowouts to a few teams, finished at -18. It wasn't the way that the tournament was supposed to go, but this young Canadian squad got a lot of good experience against the world's best, and they look forward to future tournaments and Paris in 2024.

"We're obviously disappointed, but I'm still incredibly proud of our group and some of the moments we did have in this tournament," Mark Pearson told Field Hockey Canada. "There are some great young guys coming through the system — Jamie [Wallace] scored, you saw Fin [Boothroyd] score today — and we're all hoping the team can keep that positive momentum going forward to the World Cup."

The Canadian captain was equally positive about the future.

"We were a little disappointed on the pitch but what a place to play; they've done such a good job with the venues and it was an enjoyable event from an athlete's perspective," Scott Tupper told Field Hockey Canada. "Our young guys are out there scoring goals in the Olympic Games. I'm thrilled for them and I hope they can drive our program forward."

With the tournament now over and seeding done thanks to the games finishing earlier today, it should be noted that both New Zealand (1-3-1) and Japan (0-4-1) missed from Pool A while South Africa (1-3-1) and Canada (0-4-1) missed from Pool B. Here are the quarterfinal games scheduled for Sunday morning in the medal round:
  • Germany (2nd - Pool B) vs. Argentina (3rd - Pool A)
  • Australia (1st - Pool A) vs. Netherlands (4th - Pool B)
  • Belgium (1st - Pool B) vs. Spain (4th - Pool A)
  • India (2nd - Pool A) vs. Great Britain (3rd - Pool B)
The women get the draw on Monday for their quarterfinal games, and it should be noted that Ireland (1-4) and South Africa (0-5) missed from Pool A while China (2-3) and Japan (0-5) missed from Pool B. Those quarterfinal games will see:
  • Germany (2nd - Pool A) vs. Argentina (3rd - Pool B)
  • Australia (1st - Pool B) vs. India (4th - Pool A)
  • Netherlands (1st - Pool A) vs. New Zealand (4th - Pool B)
  • Spain (2nd - Pool B) vs. Great Britain (3rd - Pool A)
Expect more updates on this blog on the medal-round games as the best eight teams in both the men's and women's tournaments begin their respective hunts for medals. Both Netherlands and Australia were 5-0 in their pools on the women's side, so we may be looking at a potential gold-medal final there while Australia and Belgium are the top-two men's teams on the planet as per the FIH rankings. Could we see Belgium defeat Australia and regain their spot as the top team in the world?

We'll know more as the Tokyo Olympics head towards a close next week! Stay tuned for more field hockey news here, and check your local listings for broadcast times!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the pitch!

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