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Sahara Champions Challenge Day 3: African crown for South Africa and broken nose for Brits
05 Apr 2005 03:20
 

The third day of the Sahara Champions Challenge in Alexandria promised to be exciting from the start: the first match of the day would see table leaders Belgium take on Korea to prove that it was their strength, not their opponents’ weakness that won them six points in the first two days of competition; the second encounter would have Argentina fighting to stay on track for the final and England fighting to keep its hopes for the final alive; and the final game would be the traditional African summit between hosts Egypt and South Africa with both teams having started into the tournament with two defeats and hoping to bag their first points.

The very good, highly energetic game between Korea and Belgium started off immediately with a flurry of activity, both teams scoring within the first two minutes of the game. Belgium made use of their most reliable weapon, the penalty corner, to take their conversion rate to 8 out of 10, while following the goal, Korea from the center went straight through to score. Within less than ten minutes, Korea put two more past goalkeeper Manu Leroy for a comfortable 3-1 lead but Belgium soon made up leeway with a goal from young Jerome Truyens and stayed at the heels of their opponents into the second half, when Korea pulled away again with three goals in five minutes. Belgium sunk a late consolation goal but in the end had to accept a 3-6 defeat.

Overall, the European side held up very well against much higher ranked Korea but will in all probability feel they could and should have done better, especially if their penalty corners had exhibited the same efficacy as in the first two games: while they scored 7 goals from 9 penalty corners on the first two days of the event, they today had to content themselves with only one successful in a total 5 attempts. On the other hand, Korea had plenty of scoring opportunities, including two penalty strokes, and could quite possibly have taken their tally into the double digits. Three of the Asians’ six goals were scored by the mercurial Jung Seon Lee to take his total tally to 8 goals in this event and extend his lead on the closest pursuer in the list of goalscorers to three – despite his having spent a substantial amount of time in the match sidelined with an light injury.

The subsequent match between Argentina, who needed a victory to keep up with Korea, and England, who were determined to be more successful than in yesterday’s clash with Korea, was, if anything, hard fought. In the beginning Argentina was the stronger side, but England worked its way into the match and almost caught up with the Southamericans. With a 3-2 scoreline and the minutes trickling away, Argentina found themselves fighting to hold on to their lead, straining to get through the remaining time. At the hooter, the relief was palpable in Jorge Lombi and his men, while the English were understandably disappointed, having played well and fought hard, deserving more than a second consecutive defeat.

One of the architects of Argentina’s win today was goalkeeper Juan Pablo Vivaldi who put forward a brilliant performance and made a string of excellent saves for his team to secure three points. Meanwhile, England’s streak of bad luck in th event continued with team captain Brett Garrard being hit square in the face by a Jorge Lombi flick at a penalty corner, having his nose broken and split open, requiring 6 stitches. Having lost Ben Hawes to a twisted ankle on Saturday, things are getting difficult for the Brits. Additionally, things are complicated by the injuries affecting primarily members of the first choice penalty corner battery, significantly lowering their chances of success: today, England had 5 penalty corners but did not manage to convert one. Regarding the return of Hawes to action, team manager David Whittle today did not name a day or match but said he was 'making good progress'.

The day was completed with the clash between continental rivals South Africa and Egypt. In yet another curious game in this competition, South Africa pulled away 4-0 in the first half, building up a lead that could not be made up for, but lost the second half 0-1 to Egypt. Egypt showed a much improved game compared to the first two days but will not be content with this if it produces no tangible results. South Africa on the other hands were elated to pick up their first points in  their thord match.




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