The question on everyone’s lips amongst the flag-waving South African supporters at the final of the Investec Challenge in Cape Town Sunday was – could the world number-11 Investec South African women’s hockey team beat London 2012 Olympic Games gold medallists and world number one team, The Netherlands, for the first time in 10 years?
It was not to be, but South Africa made their fans proud at a packed Hartleyvale Stadium with a stirring performance that produced two top-notch goals in an excellent second half.
At half-time the Dutch were 2-0 up through goals from Roos Drost (7th minute) and the fabulous Kitty van Male (23rd) but the scoreline did not reflect the tremendous fight the SA team put up and world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee – on a number of occasions – and Jade Mayne came close to getting on the scoresheet had it not been for the presence of the world’s best shot stopper, Joyce Sombroek, in The Netherlands’ goals.
After the changeover a revitalised SA scored five minutes into the second half (40th minute) from their second successive penalty corner when Lisa Deetlefs slapped in the rebound (2-0).
SA put enormous pressure on the Dutch for a sustained period, but midway through the second half the world’s best team – devastating on the counter-attack – came back at pace and outstanding forward Maria Verschoor beat excellent SA keeper Sanani Mangisa from close for 3-1 in the 55th minute.
But this exciting gold medal match of end-to-end action was not over yet, and four minutes later (59th minute) Celia Evans on the right flank shook off a heavy tackle and made ground under much pressure before firing a cross to Mayne who was lurking near the left post and the Western Province striker made no mistake from inside the six-yard box (3-2).
Thoughts of SA being able to draw level and force the match into golden goal extra-time were not to be, however, as Mangisa palmed a Maartje Paumen screamer over the crossbar – not for the first time – before Charlotte Vega scored a relatively soft goal with seven seconds left (70th minute) for the 4-2 final scoreline.
Both sides had shots pulled off the goalline – Laura Nunnink doing it for the Dutch from a Coetzee penalty corner and SA co-captain Lenise Marais the same from a Dutch drag-flick PC.
SA co-captain Marsha Marescia and Tarryn Bright got through a mountain of work in midfield but on both sides it was magnificent team efforts that produced a marvellous spectacle of international women’s hockey at its best.
Investec Challenge Fixtures and Results: Mon, 4 Feb 6pm: The Netherlands 2-2 Australia Mon, 4 Feb 8pm: South Africa 4-1 England Tues, 5 Feb 6pm: The Netherlands 4-1 England Tues, 5 Feb 8pm: South Africa 1-1 Australia Wed, 6 February: Rest Day Thurs, 7 Feb 6pm: England 3-1 Australia Thurs, 7 Feb 8pm: South Africa 3-1 the Netherlands Fri, 8 February: Rest Day Sat, 9 Feb 2:30pm: The Netherlands 3-0 England Sat, 9 Feb 5pm: South Africa 2-1 Australia Sun, 10 Feb 11:30am: Australia 2-3 England Sun, 10 Feb 2pm: South Africa 2-4 the Netherlands Investec SA Squad: Sanani Mangisa Lisa Deetlefs Pietie Coetzee Marsha Marescia (co-captain) Bernie Coston Shelley Russell Jade Mayne Quanita Bobbs Tarryn Bright Marcelle Keet Lilian du Plessis Phume Mbande Dirkie Chamberlain Nicolene Terblanche Lenise Marais (co-captain) Kelly Madsen Sulette Damons Celia Evans