The odds were stacked massively against the South African Hockey men as they took on World number 3 Belgium in a backs-against-the-wall battle to try and secure progress to the cross overs.
They would also be up against another South African coach as Belgium have the services of Craig Fulton, an Olympian for South Africa, as their assistant Coach.
Having not beaten Belgium in their competitive matches before, South Africa could not have asked for a better start when Rhett Halkett set up Nic Spooner after just 35 seconds and South Africa’s most impressive player fired home an early advantage.
Unfortunately for South Africa Belgium are too good to just take it. Alexander Hendrickx is the in-form penalty corner specialist for Belgium at the moment and his two goals from penalty corners in the first half sandwiched a neatly taken field goal by Player of the Match Simon Gougnard.
A fourth goal was added when Loick Luypaert also showed his prowess from the top of the circle. The half-time stats spoke for themselves, while possession was nearly equal between the teams, the significant figures for Belgium were three penalty corners, three goals.
South Africa themselves produced two outstanding opportunities where Julian Hykes and Dayaan Cassiem both failed to capitalise on the space they were afforded and pull the game closer to a contest.
Belgium continued to seek chances as they looked to up their goal difference to try and take top spot in the pool, they were denied this by a combination of things.
Gowan Jones was impressive in goal, South Africa defended better, and Belgium were wasteful of their opportunities.
The final score of 5-1 coupled with India’s 5-1 victory against Canada meant that the host team took top spot and advanced to the Quarter-Finals. Canada joined Belgium in the cross overs simply by having a better goal difference than South Africa.
For South Africa there will be a short amount of time before the SA Men return to India for the Hockey Series Finals in July 2019, an Olympic Qualifying tournament.
There were signs of an improvement for the South African men in the tournament, with some new young players getting their opportunities, but there is a long journey ahead for the country to close the gap on the other nations.