There will be no love lost and some old scores to settle when the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team face Spain in the first of the five-match Investec International Series between the two countries, at 2 pm at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Sunday.
Investec South Africa women’s hockey captain, Marsha Marescia, says they expect a very tough series against Spain, and after celebrating her birthday on Friday the 13th, Marescia said: “We will need to consistently play well and punish them on their errors if we are to be successful.”
Joining Marescia as the team continue their campaign to qualify for London 2012 will be midfield star Kate Woods, who will be notching up her 150th cap for South Africa.
With the Spaniards ranked 11th in the world to South Africa’s 12th, there is little to choose between the two sides and so it proved in their three Test matches last year.
The teams met in a two-Test series in Spain last June, and the hotly-contested encounters both went the home country’s way by the odd goal, but not without the South Africans feeling more than a little aggrieved with some of the critical umpiring decisions made by the home umpires.
However, the real drama was still to come at the Champions Challenge in Ireland a fortnight later, a tournament in which the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said captain Marsha Marescia’s squad had to reach the final in order to satisfy the governing body that the team was worthy of going to the London 2012 Olympics.
This was despite the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements which stipulated that the SA team need only win the Africa Cup – which they later did – to qualify for London.
The FIH’s experimental tournament format in Dublin also did SA no favours. For the first time, all eight sides qualified for the title playoffs no matter where they finished in the preliminary round.
Quarter-finals were played for the first time and instead of SA, who topped Pool A, going straight to the semi-finals, as was the norm, they had to play Spain, bottom of Pool B, in the quarter-finals.
The upshot was that SA had over 30 entries into the strike zone to Spain’s three, yet the Spaniards won 3-2 in golden goal extra-time. The winner came from a penalty corner awarded for what the South Africans deemed to be a theatrical dive by a Spanish forward worthy of any soccer player.
Considering the animosity between the teams in recent times, and with world goal-scoring record-holder Pietie Coetzee of Southern Gauteng returning to the SA team after a brief rest, spectators can expect fireworks of a special kind.
A further incentive is that the SA and Spanish players need to impress their respective national selectors ahead of the last-chance Olympic Qualifier tournaments that take place for South Africa in Delhi, India in February – and in Belgium for the Spaniards in March.
The other SA versus Spain Test matches at Randburg take place at 7 pm on Tuesday and Thursday next week, and at 2 pm next Saturday and Sunday.
A South African Junior Invitational squad will play an SA Invitation team in the curtain-raiser. Tickets are available at the gate and will cost R20 for the day.
Match Schedule Against Spain:RSA vs ESP Sunday, 15/01/2012 14:00 RSA vs ESP Tuesday, 17/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs ESP Thursday, 19/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs ESP Saturday, 21/01/2012 14:00 RSA vs ESP Sunday, 22/01/2012 14:00
Triangular Series Match Schedule:RSA vs IRL Wednesday, 25/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs BEL Thursday, 26/01/2012 19:00 BEL vs IRL Friday, 27/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs IRL Saturday, 28/01/2012 14:00 RSA vs BEL Sunday, 29/01/2012 14:00 BEL vs IRL Monday, 30/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs IRL Tuesday, 31/01/2012 19:00 RSA vs BEL Wednesday, 01/02/2012 19:00 BEL vs IRL Thursday, 02/02/2012 19:00 RSA vs IRL Friday, 03/02/2012 19:00 RSA vs BEL Sunday, 04/02/2012 14:00 RSA vs IRL Sunday, 05/02/2012 14:00 RSA vs BEL Monday, 06/02/2012 19:00