South Africa qualify for Paris Olympics after tense final
Egypt were victorious on the two previous meetings between the two countries at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia and fancied themselves to cause an upset in front of a full house in Pretoria. The two teams, who have contested every African final this millennium are both ranked in the top 20 in the FIH World Rankings and were determined to seal a spot at the Olympic Games.
Before the game started the South Africans recognised the milestone achievements of both Sam Mvimbi (50 caps) and Dan Bell (100 caps). They celebrated those milestones in the best way possible when Matt Guise-Brown fired home his 11th goal of the tournament from a penalty corner to give the hosts the early lead. They were disappointed though to only hold the lead for 120 seconds as Hossam Ghobran levelled matters with a fine reverse stick strike.
The game was building up to a crescendo as the emotions rose and Nic Spooner spent a few minutes in the bin. Both teams had chances but were unable to convert and at the half time break the game was on a knife’s edge, 1-1.
South Africa thought they would take the lead when Matt Guise-Brown’s shot was saved superbly on the line. It was then Gowan Jones turn to shine as he produced one of the best saves of the tournament to keep the score level. Egypt did find the back of the net, but a South African referral saw the goal denied as a result of a foot.
The pressure in the final 15 minutes was intense and both teams thought there was a possible winner in their destiny. South Africa were the ones to find the goal. Mustapha Cassiem was given a small pocket of space and fired in his shot, the ball was saved but as it fell across to Ryan Julius the goal was scored. Despite a lengthy referral the goal stood to the jubilation of the South Africans and the dismay of the Egyptians.
Egypt continued to fight back and almost levelled with a cross bar strike that somehow stayed out. But Egypt would find the back of the net once more with 40 seconds left but once again a foot in the circle saw the goal disallowed on referral and the South Africans held on to secure a place in Paris.
Ryan Julius, who scored the winning goal, shared his thoughts after the final:
“I can hardly remember the moment, but it’s definitely the greatest in a qualifier for me. I was in the right place at the right time and I couldn’t be happier. It was a sensational moment in front of a sensational crowd!”
African Hockey Road to Paris 2024 Qualifier Final Standings
1. South Africa