South Africa qualify for Athens Olympics

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> South Africa beat Belgium via the tie-breaker at Madrid to qualify for the hockey competition of the Athens Olympics.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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South Africa, trailing 1-2 with five seconds left, squeezed out a 6-5 aggregate win against Belgium via the tie-breaker to qualify for the hockey competition of the Athens Olympics here today. In the playoff game for 7-8 positions at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament, Belgium led 2-1 until the final seconds when Gregg Clark latched on to a free ball inside the circle to score the equaliser for South Africa. With the extra-time proving unproductive, the tie-breaker was introduced. The team finished their five strokes at 3-3, leading to the sudden-death. Ian Symons converted for South Africa while a nervous Jean-Phillippe Brule pushed weakly and goalkeeper Dave Staniforth easily saved to give his team a 4-3 decision. South Africa thus finished seventh in the competition, but they will have to await the decision on Greece's appeal for automatic qualification to the Athens Games. If the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) upholds the appeal, the South Africa will lose its Olympic spot. During the regulation period, Belgium took a 2-0 lead on goals by Charles Vandeweghe (11th) and Brule (9th), but then missed quite a few chances to allow South Africa back into the game. The South Africans made it 1-2 in the 14th minute when Eric Rose-Innes converted a penalty corner, and with five seconds left on the clock in the second-half, Clark scored the equaliser to force the match into extra-time. During the 15-minute "golden goal" period, both sides missed chances. In the tie-breaker, Greg Nicol, Symons and Craig Fulton converted for South Africa while Wayne Denne and Steve Evans pushed weakly into the goalkeeper. For Belgium, Brule, Marc Coudron and Giles Petre came good in the tie-breaker, but Maxime Luycs pushed wide and Xavier Reckingers attempt went into the goalkeeper. (PTI)