The Africa Cup of Nations saw a week of exciting hockey action culminate in a double victory for South Africa, giving the top ranked teams in both the men’s and women’s competition automatic qualification for the respective FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar and Rourkela and the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup, Spain and Netherlands 2022.
The seven days of action took place at the Theodosia Okoh Stadium in Accra, Ghana, with seven men’s and eight women’s teams competing for the continental crown as well as a coveted qualification spot at the FIH blue riband events.
Although South Africa men’s and women’s hockey teams continue their dominance at this event, both finals were tough contests. The women went behind to a well-organised and hard-working Ghana team before rallying and winning 3-1. The men were held to a 1-1 scoreline by a resilient and skilful Egypt, but held their nerve to win the shoot-out by a 3-1 scoreline.
In the women’s final, the host nation was hoping that home advantage would serve the players well as they faced South Africa in the final. This was the fifth consecutive final in which the two teams had faced each other, with South Africa emerging the victor on each of the previous occasions. Both teams had shown good form going into the final: South Africa were unbeaten and had conceded no goals to that point. Ghana had drawn with Nigeria and won their other two matches with ease.
An early goal from Elizabeth Opoku – following the award of a penalty stroke against South Africa – gave Ghana the lead in the sixth minute. The noise levels among the spectators rose as they sensed the opportunity for an upset. However, South Africa responded well and were 2-1 ahead at half-time, courtesy of goals from Charne Maddocks and Kristen Paton.
The match was put beyond doubt in the final quarter when Lillian du Plessis scored a penalty stroke to give her side a 3-1 lead.
Tarryn Glasby of South Africa was the competition’s overall top scorer with nine goals. Speaking after the match, she said: ‘It is nice to get a win in Ghana. As a striker you are supposed to score goals, so I am happy to be the top scorer. Looking forward to the World Cup, it is all about trusting our processes.’
The captain of Ghana women, Nafisatu Umara, said: ’We are impressed with our performance. We took the lead in the first quarter, which shows how much we have really improved. We now have the courage to carry the ball, so we are happy with our performance. The last time we played South Africa we lost 6-0, so this was a big improvement. We will look at what happened today, we will do our homework and next time we will beat them.’
South Africa’s Head Coach Inky Zondy said: ‘I am really excited and really happy with the game. It was a tough game, so thank you to Ghana. We have really enjoyed our week here. We are a team that has changed, so we have to learn from what has happened this week and represent Africa well at the World Cup.’
In the men’s final, it was a repeat of the previous five editions, with reigning champions South Africa facing Egypt.
Any hope Egypt had of hitting South Africa hard in the early stages was dashed when Matt Guise-Brown stepped up to fire home a penalty corner in the 12th minute. South Africa looked comfortably in control of the game for much of the first half but they failed to capitalise on a number of chances.
With seven minutes of the half remaining, Egypt’s Ziad Adel took the opportunity to even the scores with a well-taken goal that eluded Siyavuya Nolutshungu in the South African goal.
The teams continued to probe and seek a breakthrough throughout the third quarter but neither team could find the goal.
With 15 minutes left, South Africa turned up the pressure a notch. An early penalty corner attempt flew wide and a devastating run from Nqobile Ntuli ended with a tame shot. Egypt continued to dig deep defensively and the team’s resilience paid off as the final whistle blew and the match went to shoot-out for the first time since 2005 [when South Africa beat Egypt 3-2 on penalty strokes].
Clinical finishing by the South African attackers and some great goalkeeping by Nolutshungu saw the higher ranked team finally break down their Egyptian rivals as South Africa won the shoot-out 3-1.
South Africa’s penalty corner specialist Matthew Guise-Brown was top goalscorer with six goals.
Speaking after the match, South Africa’s Head Coach Gareth Ewing said: ’I’m shattered. That was too close for comfort. Ghana is such a great host, there was such a great atmosphere in the stadium, it was great to win. Based on tonight’s performance, we have a lot to do before the World Cup.’
Captain of South Africa, Tim Drummond said: ’We are ecstatic. That was tough but we are missing some players so that shows that we have depth in the squad. There is a long way to go before the World Cup but we hope to make a lot of improvement and finish in the top ten.’
Egypt’s Head Coach Zaman Tahir, said: ‘That was heartbreaking for all the boys. South Africa’s experience to handle this sort of pressure is huge. Shoot-out is down to nerves and South Africa had an advantage. Losing on shoot-out - it could have been any one’s game.’
Earlier in the day, Kenya women had taken third place after they beat Zimbabwe in a tense match that had finished goalless at full time. Kenya’s goal keeper Milicent Adhiambo performed heroics to keep the Zimbabwe attackers at bay and the Kenyan team were able to finished one place higher than their previous fourth place in 2017.
In the men’s match to decide third place, Nigeria put in an energetic performance to defeat Kenya 4-2. Goals from Sunday Godwin, Emmanuel Sunday, Benjamin Ibrahim and James Samaila sealed the bronze medal and the highest ever finishing position for Nigeria.
Final positions at the Africa Cup of Nations
Women’s Africa Cup of Nations
1. South Africa - qualified for the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup, Spain and Netherlands 2022
Men’s Africa Cup of Nations
1. South Africa