South African hopes of dodging the Men’s Hockey World League axe were shattered Monday when humiliated 9-1 by merciless Belgium in the final mini-league match in Johannesburg.
The host nation needed a victory to pip Egypt on goal difference for fourth place in Pool B and secure a quarter-final against arch sporting rivals Australia.
It was a tall order given fifth-ranked Belgium are 10 places higher in the world and recently won all three internationals against the South Africa in Cape Town.
But South African supporters hoped the men would be inspired by their female counterparts, who shocked the higher-ranked United States Sunday to secure a last-eight place in the women’s event.
Those dreams did not last long, however, in icy conditions as a southern hemisphere winter cold snap enveloped the financial capital of South Africa.
Alexander Hendrickx put the 2016 Rio Olympic Games silver medallists ahead inside three minutes off a penalty corner and the rout had begun at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Belgium were two goals ahead by the end of the first quarter and a devastating second 15-minute spell brought five more goals and a 7-0 half-time lead.
South Africa changed goalkeepers with Richard Curtis coming in for Rassie Pieterse and he made several fine stops while restricting the Belgians to two goals.
Thomas Briel struck twice for Belgium and raised his tournament tally to four goals — one less than team-mate and leading scorer Tom Boon.
Sebastien Dockier also bagged a brace for the “Red Lions”, who face the “Black Sticks” of New Zealand Wednesday in the quarter-finals.
New Zealand-born Belgium coach Shane McLeod said “the team had a really good first half with the ball falling nicely for us.
“The field was a little slippery, but we handled the conditions well.”
Rattled South Africa coach Fabian Gregory preferred to hail Belgium than dwell on a shambolic first-half performance by his team.
“Belgium are a fantastic side and we saw tonight why they were silver medallists at the Rio Olympics. Make the slightest mistake and they punish you.”
Despite scoring 10 goals against Egypt, nine against South Africa and six against Ireland, Belgium had to settle for second place behind Germany, who won all four matches.
Another clinical, no-frills display by the Rio bronze medallists brought a 2-0 win over Ireland, who failed to convert any of four penalty corners.
Young captain Tom Grambusch gave Germany a first-quarter lead off their only penalty corner and Martin Zwicker added the victory-sealing second goal on 50 minutes.
France, who had a bye Monday, will be the quarter-finals opponents of the Germans.
Spain set up a last-eight showdown with Ireland by scoring in the final minute through Pau Quemada to triumph 4-3 against New Zealand, who had come from two goals behind to lead.
The match-winner was a personal nightmare for Kiwi Nick Ross, who had plenty of time to clear the ball, but hesitated and was dispossessed, giving Quemada a clear path to goal.
Australia completed a four-victory Pool A record by whipping Japan 7-2 with a 12-second goal from captain Mark Knowles off a penalty stroke setting the pattern.
The “Kookaburras” appear to have the easiest quarter-finals task as they meet Egypt, a team ranked 17 places lower in the world.