The preparations and the talking are almost done, and the world’s best players will soon be switching their focus to the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria for the start of the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup, presented by SPAR, on Sunday.
The SPAR South African women’s team will open proceedings against European powerhouse Austria at 8.30am.
This will be followed by the South African men’s team, powered by Tops at SPAR, when they meet Australia at 9.40am.
The sixth edition of the World Cup is being hosted outside of Europe for the first time and there was a massive sense of excitement at Wednesday’s media conference as the South African captains (Jess O’Connor and Jethro Eustice) and the managers (Lennie Botha and Justin Rosenberg) reflected on what lay ahead.
With 124 caps under her belt, O’Connor has been around the block, but even she can’t wait for the opportunity for her team to showcase their skills.
“We are all excited and the nerves are a bit high, but we are well prepared,” she said. “We had good test series in December and an excellent camp last week, so we are really looking forward to the opportunity.
“As South Africans we tend to put Europeans teams on a pedestal, but we are here to bring it at the end of the day.
“We’ve shown we can beat those teams it and even if we have a slightly different side now, we have shown we can compete, and we are going to take it to the field.”
Eustice has just returned from competing in the field hockey World Cup in India and was blown away by the support the Indian national team received.
“Hockey is one of the top two sports in the country so the exposure the national team gets is pretty special,” he said.
“But we are achieving the same thing here. The exposure for the South African men’s and women’s teams has been incredible and to host an event like this on African soil, well, it’s going to be exceptional for the fans.”
Rosenberg backed those comments, referring to the December test series against Namibia in Cape Town.
“Every time the guys got the ball the crowd got excited and the following, we have had over the last few months has been tremendous. Obviously, we would like that to motivate the guys going forward.”
As the African champions, the Namibian women’s team are determined to deliver a significant performance in Pretoria, even if it does create a bit of pressure, said coach Erwin Handura.
“Even if there is pressure, you still have to show your talents and after a trip to Europe where we played seven matches and trained in really cold weather, the players have had the best ever physical and mental preparation,” he said.
Skipper Maggie Mengo said it was thrilling to be able to compete on African soil.
“We are looking forward to our first match on Sunday (against Kazakhstan),” she said. “We have set ourselves a high target in this World Cup and we are ready to go for it.”