Kenya, who finished third in Pool B of the African Hockey Road to Paris Men’s Olympic Qualifier, will take on Nigeria for fifth place after they held off a Zimbabwe side that took them deep, winning 2-1 in a thrilling match at the University of Pretoria on Thursday night.
Nigeria was too good for Zambia, winning 5-1 in the other crosspool playoff for fifth-to-eighth positions.
Kenya dominated their match against Zimbabwe in terms of territory and shots at goal and were especially effective at counterattacking from deep. The East Africans went 2-0 up just 54 seconds after halftime, both their goals coming after the opposition had failed to make the most of promising chances in the Kenyan circle.
The opening goal came in the 22nd minute when a Zimbabwe penalty corner was blocked, and Kenya launched a blistering counterattack that culminated in Bethuel Masambu brilliantly steering an overhead into the goal.
Zimbabwe were hard on attack as soon as the second half started but failed to make anything of a great opportunity. Kenya quickly shipped the ball out of their half and a superb pass found Francis Kariuki just outside the circle. The 27-year-old rounded the goalkeeper and finished superbly from out wide.
But just seven minutes later, Zimbabwe struck back to guarantee an extremely tense finish to the game. The skilful Tadiwanashe Kamusewu robbed a defender and passed to Tatenda Kanyangarara, whose brilliant offload under pressure was met by Alec Chamunorwa, who finished well.
Zimbabwe paid the price, however, for their hapless penalty-corner routine, failing to convert a trio of opportunities from the set-piece.
Nigeria, by contrast, were able to call on the services of the impressive James Samaila for their short-corners and he flicked in twice from the top of the circle against Zambia.
The 26-year-old Samaila also provided a great ball that found Peter John in space in the circle, the 22-year-old finishing with an excellent reverse-sticks strike.
Kelvin Linus scored an even better tomahawk-goal, firing a phenomenal reverse-sticks rocket from an acute angle into the roof of the net in the 34th minute. That settled any Nigerian nerves because Zambia, 3-1 down at the time, had been putting them under some pressure.
Nigeria had also started well, with Sunday Godwin neatly jabbing the ball into the goal in the fourth minute.
It was also an unhappy day for Zimbabwe in the Women’s Olympic Qualifier as they lost to Namibia in a penalty shootout to exit the tournament in seventh and last place.
Namibia scored on the stroke of halftime through Jahntwa Kruger, but Zimbabwe scored twice in three minutes shortly before the end of the third quarter, through Alexei Terblanche and Rumbidzaiishe Zimuto to take a 2-1 lead.
The crucial equaliser for Namibia came just a minute later, however, as Tisha Simedo scored a field goal to send the teams to a penalty shootout.
Namibia were very grateful for the services of captain Petro Stoffberg in goal as Zimbabwe just could not get past her, Namibia winning the shootout 3-0.
Friday is semi-final day at Tuks as South Africa play Ghana in both the men’s (7.15pm) and women’s (5pm) qualifiers.
The other women’s last-four match is between Kenya and Nigeria at 12.30pm, and Egypt take on Uganda in the other men’s semi-final at 2.45pm.