South African team doing it the hard way through Qualifiers
The ongoing five-match hockey series between India and South Africa has proved more beneficial for the latter. "We don't have enough funds for international exposure trips, but India invited us and took care of our boarding and lodging expenses. This has helped us prepare for the Olympic Qualifiers in April," says South Africa coach Cregg Clark.
For India, though, there have been only marginal benefits. South Africa is ranked 12th in the world, while India is 10th. It's not that Hockey India (HI) didn't invite top-ranked teams, but both Australia and Holland refused.
HI secretary-general, Narinder Batra, says, "The federation made enough efforts to bring in teams ranked higher than India, but due to prior engagements, they refused. South Africa was the next best option."
Despite winning the continental title, South Africa has to play the Qualifiers to bag an Olympic berth. "Our Olympic Committee thought the continental competition was easy, so they asked us to go through the Olympic Qualifiers grind," Clark said. That decision, though, has not put the team under pressure. "We are mentally prepared."
Due to lack of funds, the team hasn't played many international tournaments in the last two years. So the series against India has given the coach more avenues before the Qualifiers.
If Clark is to be believed, his top-four players are back home. "The absence of key players is evident in the results," he said. South Africa are trailing 1-3 in the five-match series.