The South Africans met France in their final group stage game of the 2023 FIH Junior World Cup knowing that they would need a three-goal win to qualify for a first ever quarter-final. They also knew the French would be incredibly difficult having made the semi-finals at both their previous events, while also opening the tournament with a back-to-back win.
The French got off to the perfect start with a goal in the opening 16 seconds with Jules Verrier fired into the roof of the net. And it got worse in the fourth minute as Stanislas Branicki turned onto his reverse stick side to fire home superbly. While many thought the South Africans would drop their heads, they refused to and started a fight back.
The South Africans pulled level when a brilliant leading run from Hans Neethling saw him deflect the ball onto the post and it went in off the back of the keeper. It was a touch of luck that favored the courage of the South Africans, but almost immediately Gaspard Denis pulled another goal ahead from a penalty corner. South Africa made a save but the rebound was put away. Despite the setback South Africa pulled another back. Calvin Davis took the pass for the penalty corner into the circle ran a loop and fired it in for a deflection from Caleb Oliphant to end a pulsating quarter 3-2 down.
Cameron le Forestier pulled South Africa level with a spinning strike with his back to goal for his first of the game. But Mathis Clement produced his own moment of quality with a brilliant strike to emerge into the lead, but le Forestier struck again with a wonderful deflection to re-level the game. A sublime assist from Clement set up Haertelmeyer and his finish was clinical to give the French a 5-4 lead at half-time.
South Africa were the team asking the questions in the second half, Cameron le Forestier almost scored from a brilliant Oliphant cross, while two penalty corners were successfully saved.
Despite a tremendous effort from the South Africans, they were unable to find the goal that would re-establish parity and it was the French who knew they had faced their toughest test of the pool stage but emerged with the 3 points.
For South Africa, the focus will now shift on finishing as high up the table as possible starting in a 9-16 playoff game against Chile.
by South Africa