The unbeaten Investec South Africa women’s hockey team drew 1-1 with Italy after trailing 1-0 at half-time in the Olympic Qualifier Tournament at New Delhi’s National Stadium Tuesday.
SA left out world record goalscorer and penalty corner drag-flicker Pietie Coetzee as a precaution, the superstar striker endeavouring to get over a cold.
In the fourth minute, leading tournament goalscorer Alessia Padalino scored from the first penalty corner to take her tally to five after three matches.
Five minutes into the second half, Lauren Penny, Tarryn Bright and Kathleen Taylor combined in a slick move in the attacking third for Penny to net a well-deserved equaliser with a slap-shot from inside the six-yard box that bulged the net (1-1).
SA dominated the 70 minutes and earned 12 penalty corners to eight, Kate Woods hitting the post once. Woods also “scored” twice but her PC strikes were too high from the first shot.
In the second quarter, SA peppered the Italian goal with goal shots but somehow the Europeans weathered the storm.
Immediately after half-time Penny won SA’s seventh PC and goalkeeper Roberta Lilliu, deservedly Player of the Match for keeping Italy in the game, made another fine save. Then Penny and Dirkie Chamberlain combined for a great chance but again the determined Italians survived.
On markedly fewer occasions, Italy did threaten and Lenise Marais and captain Marsha Marescia made some crucial interventions in defence.
Aldana Lovagnini had a good chance on the edge of the strike zone after Penny’s goal but struck wide of the far post. A fifth Italy PC came and went before SA twice came agonisingly close in the six-yard box with 15 minutes left.
Umpire Chieko Soma of Japan awarded SA’s eighth, ninth and 10th PCs in quick succession but goalkeeper Lilliu was in top form. Jade Mayne and Chamberlain’s shots were somehow repelled by the desperate Italian defence.
SA won their 11th PC and Woods nailed it past the keeper but the shot cannoned off the post. A 12th PC followed, Mayne and Kim Hubach’s shots – against all odds – unable to cross the goalline.
With 30 seconds left the most unlikely of victories became a possibility as Padalino won the Italians’ sixth PC, and the final hooter had sounded when the seventh and eighth – hotly disputed – penalty corners came the Europeans’ way but SA keeper Mariette Rix was up to the challenge with a couple of excellent saves under huge pressure.
World number 12 South Africa now have seven points from three matches while Italy are on five. Ukraine, who beat Canada 5-1 in the earlier game, are on four points and Canada on one point. India (four points from two matches) tackle Poland (zero points) in Tuesday’s late game.
Wednesday, SA face their biggest rivals, world number 13 India, at 2.30 pm (SA time) in a match that both sides need to win.
After Thursday’s rest day, SA conclude the league phase on Friday when they tackle Canada at 2 pm (10.30 am SA time). The two leading teams will meet in Saturday’s 6 pm (2.30 pm SA time) final with place at the London 2012 Olympic Games at stake.
Investec SA Olympic Qualifier Tournament Fixtures:Sat 18 Feb SA 2-1 Poland Sun 19 Feb SA 2-0 Ukraine Tue 21 Feb SA 1-1 Italy Wed 22 Feb SA vs India Fri Feb 24 SA vs Canada Final: Sat Feb 25
FIH Road to London Tournament Log:Played Won Lost Drawn Points RSA 3 2 1 0 7 ITA 3 1 2 0 5 IND 2 1 1 0 4 UKR 3 1 1 1 4 CAN 3 0 1 2 1 POL 2 0 0 2 0
Investec South Africa Team:Mariette Rix (Western Province) Kate Woods (Western Province) Shelley Russell (Western Province) Jade Mayne (Western Province) Lauren Penny (Western Province) Kathleen Taylor (Western Province) Tarryn Bright (Western Province) Marsha Marescia (capt) (Southern Gauteng) Lisa Deetlefs (Southern Gauteng) Bernadette Coston (Southern Gauteng) Pietie Coetzee (Southern Gauteng) Sanani Mangisa (Northern Blues) Dirkie Chamberlain (Northern Blues) Nicolene Terblanche (Northern Blues) Kim Hubach (Northern Blues) Lesle-Ann George (Free State) Lenise Marais (KZN Coastal Raiders) Sulette Damons (North West)