SA hockey teams head for World Cup

While the Spar South African women’s hockey team cantered to victory in their Africa Cup of Nations final, the men’s final between South Africa and Egypt was a thrilling affair that went right down to the wire.

While the women failed to reach top gear against Ghana, they still managed to score six goals to one, and booked their place in the World Cup in Madrid, Spain next year.

The men, in contrast, had to weather an immense effort from the Egyptians as the two teams ended full-time goalless. Extra time failed to produce a winner and penalty strokes beckoned.

South Africa triumphed 3-2 as reserve goalkeeper Simon Martin saved three times—one a stunning full-length dive to his right—to win in front of a wildly ecstatic crowd.

Earlier, though, it was number-one goalkeeper Chris Hibbert who was the hero as he repeatedly made awesome saves to keep his team in the match and take the game to extra time and penalties.

“It was tense out there, especially with our history,” Hibbert said on Sunday. “We always knew that Egypt would be a tough nut to crack, but after the last time it’s great to be on this side of the result.”

On the previous occasion the two met in a final, at the All Africa Games in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2003, Egypt came from 2-0 down to level and then went on to score a dramatic golden-goal winner for a 3-2 victory.

“That was a huge disappointment, especially as we failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics, but now we know we are going to Germany [for the 2006 World Cup], so it’s a massive relief,” Hibbert said.

Hibbert, who hails from Port Elizabeth but is currently plying his trade with Southgate Hockey Club in England, was full of praise for Martin’s penalty antics.

“He was absolutely superb. We did the same thing in the Olympic qualifier last year, when I came off and Stani [David Staniforth] came on. It was the coach’s call and I backed him. As long as the team benefits, I’m all for it,” he said.

The national squad will meet for a camp in Pretoria in January ahead of possible series against England and Ireland as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Australia in March.

The win over Egypt will have gone a long way to restoring confidence ahead of a busy 2006 schedule.—Sapa

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