Bhubaneswar: Nicolas Spooner scored in the final minute to help South Africa scrape past USA 2-1 and make it to the finals of the FIH Men’s Series Finals here Friday at the Kalinga Stadium. With this win, the Proteas also sealed their spot in the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers to be played in November this year.
This was the second meeting of the two teams in the tournament. The last time they met was in the group stages, where USA had stunned the higher-ranked Proteas 2-0.
Clearly, the Proteas were the most dominant side in the first quarter with frequent circles, but as usual lacked finishing – a problem they have been suffering since the start of the tournament.
The dominating South Africans earned three penalty corners. While Austin Smith hit the first one wide, the other two were brilliantly saved by Jonathan Klages, who have been USA’s standout performer under the bar in the event.
It was however, USA who took a shock lead in the 15th minute with Aki Kaeppler converting from the penalty corner, their first of the match.
With an early goal advantage, the 25th ranked Americans piled more pressure on the South Africans in the second quarter, especially on counter-attacks. Pat Harris proved to be the most dangerous with his speed. The Proteas defenders were unable to contain him on quite a few occasions.
The 16th ranked African nation could have equalised in the 23rd minute through Owen Mvimbi, but the midfielder shot wide much to the despair of the South African coach Garreth Ewing.
However, the South Africans finally ended their penalty corner jitters, as Smith provided them the equaliser in the 42nd minute to finish third quarter with a 1-1 scoreline.
USA could have gone ahead in the 53rd minute, but had their goal disallowed after television replays showed the ball went into the net after hitting Christian de Angelis’s foot following a brilliant circle entry from Kei Kaeppeler.
However, it was the Spooner who turned out to be the hero of the match providing the much-needed tap in, in the final minute from a Ntuli feeder past Klages to take them though the finals.