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SA coaches bullish ahead of Africa Cup campaign

South African men's and women's hockey coaches Charlie Pereira and Fabian Gregory were confident their teams headed into the Africa Cup of Nations tournament as favourites.

“Our chances are good. We are the current champions,” men’s head coach Pereira said ahead of the teams’ departure to Nairobi on Friday.

“So we go in there as champions and our goal is to win the tournament so we qualify for the World Cup.”

The winners of the Africa Cup of Nations both the men’s and women’s team would qualify as Africa’s sole representatives at the 2014 Hockey World Cup in the Netherlands.

“I definitely believe winning this tournament will give us impetus and good preparation going into a World Cup if we should be successful, which we are confident we will be,” Gregory said.

“For a number of the girls, it would probably be the crowning moment of their careers.

“For some of the juniors, who are just starting out their careers, it would be fantastic.”

The Nairobi event, originally scheduled for September 16 to October 5, was postponed after the bombing of a Nairobi shopping centre.

Islamist gunmen entered the Westgate mall in the country’s capital on September 21 and used automatic weapons and grenades to kill 67 people.

Kenya entered into a period of three days of national mourning following the end of the four-day siege at the mall, prompting the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to halt the event and move it to a later date.

Pereira said the men’s team had suffered two withdrawals from the team as a result of the date change due to work and university commitments, and revealed his concern at not having had his team together to train before they departed.

“We’ve had to replace Andrew Cronje and Matthew Guise-Brown. We’ve brought in Francois Pretorius and Greg Last,” Pereira said.

“It’s been a little bit disruptive in that regard. Also, we haven’t been able to train together as a group because our guys are all over the place in South Africa, and we have guys playing in Europe.

“That’s the real difficulty, because we haven’t been able to get together for a week before we go away to train, which is what we needed to do.”

In the men’s draw, South Africa will take on Kenya, Ghana and Egypt. The four teams competing the women’s competition are South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.

Despite the team having had little in the form of preparations for the uncertainty of Nairobi’s facilities, Pereira believed his team would be able to get the job done.

“We don’t have too many guys who have played there before, maybe three or four who have played there (in Nairobi),” Pereira said.

“It’s going to be a new experience. We’ve tried to brief the guys as much as we can in terms of the pitch

“It’s not going to be great, we know that. The reports haven’t been excellent, but the FIH sent a delegation down there to have a look at the pitch and they’re happy playing international fixtures on it.”

Pereira fingered Egypt as the men’s toughest opposition, while Gregory believes Ghana will pose the biggest threat to the women’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup.

“Egypt have traditionally been our toughest opponent.,” Pereira said.

“The team we’re probably most wary of is Ghana. They would definitely be the toughest team in my book,” Gregory said.

The South Africans get their tournament underway on Monday, with the men taking on Ghana, while the women meet Kenya in their opening fixture.

South Africa men: Rassie Pieterse, Jacque le Roux, Rhett Halkett (vice-captain), Francois Pretorius, Greg Last, Jethro Eustice, Dylan Swanepoel, Mohamed Mea, Austin Smith (captain), Jonty Robinson, Clint Panther, Wade Paton, Taine Paton, Tim Drummond, Julian Hykes, Geoff Abbott, Pierre de Voux, Lloyd Norris-Jones. Head coach: Charlie Pereira.

South Africa women: Hanli Hattingh, Phume Mbande, Lenise Marais (co-captain) Marcelle Keet (co-captain, Lisa Deetlefs, Illse Davids, Celia Evans, Shelley Russell, Kaila Flemming, Quanita Bobbs, Sulette Damons, Christine Roos, Jade Mayne, Bernie Coston, Tanya Britz, Lilian du Plessis, Izelle Lategan, Kelly Madsen. Head coach: Fabian Gregory.

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