France Won A Tight Win In The Potchefstroom
France victory in Potchefstroom
France victory in Potchefstroom

 

Potchefstroom was the terminus as for the final time of 2021-2022 FIH Pro League France took to the field in South Africa. The French had enjoyed a fairly successful trip to the African Champions as their victory against India had propelled them into the top 10 of the World Rankings. For the South Africans, who celebrated Dayaan Cassiem’s 50th test cap, it was an opportunity to show the lessons learned so far in an incredibly tough tournament.

South Africa started very brightly and created a couple of early circle penetrations with the front three looking feisty early on. But despite the early in-roads, it was the French who had the best early opportunity and from it won the opening penalty corner. The drag-flick from a slipping Charlet was easily kept out to the relief of the hosts.

South Africa then had a counterattack superbly led by Bili Ntuli, but the final pass was just too heavy for Keenan Horne and rather unconvincingly Thieffry cleared his lines. South Africa was the first to break the deadlock and it was a belter. Sihle Ngubane received the ball out wide, he fed Mustapha Cassiem and the 2021 FIH Rising Star nominee made his own space before finishing superbly.

His brother then forced Thieffry into a save as he created space and fired a tomahawk in. It remained 1-0 to the South Africans. France used their referral to win a penalty corner shortly after, but the deflection variation was wide of the post, a timely reminder of the dangers the French possess. France created a half chance that squired across the goal before firing over the top as the quarter headed to completion.

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An early second quarter penalty corner for France was superbly charged down by Keenan Horne, but France was able to pull level shortly thereafter when an opportunistic poke from a deflected ball saw Blaise Rogeau restore parity for the Europeans. South Africa missed a golden opportunity to re-take the lead when a wonderful run from Mustapha Cassiem set up Pautz, but the striker fired it agonizingly wide. A brilliant dive from Keenan Horne got on to the end of a Mustapha Cassiem cross but Thieffry had closed the space to make it a regulation save.

A fiercely competitive first half had finished 1-1 with both teams left feeling they could and possibly should have put a second goal in.

The first major opportunity in the second half came to the French but superb diving save by Gowan Jones kept them at bay as Tynevez could not complete the move. A massive decision was then given as France was awarded a penalty stroke. Charlet the French Skipper made no mistake as he smashed it home to give the French the lead for the First time in the game.

South Africa should have pulled level when Dayaan Cassiem was sent through on goal but his one on one was saved and edged narrowly wide. The South Africans then kept another penalty corner at bay as they rode out a five-minute yellow card. The quarter ended 2-1 with the game on a knife’s edge heading into the final quarter.

Early in the final quarter both defensive units led the match and denied opportunities, but South Africa fashioned a great opportunity for Bili Ntuli that was smothered by Thieffry to the disdain of the ball boys and ball girls.

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France won another penalty corner with 7 minutes remaining, but they failed to control and were lucky to win a re-award. And then another. It was third time lucky for the South African defenders who cleared well and kept the game tight. South Africa then won their first PC, but it was brilliantly charged down by the French defense. 3 minutes remained.

Despite a remarkable effort from the South Africans, it wasn’t to be and the French managed to hold on for a victory. The South Africans had clearly shown they are learning the big lessons in this series and closing the gap, but it was ultimately a disappointment for the men in Green and Gold on the night.