Captain Marsha Marescia’s world number 12 South Africa women’s hockey team are anticipating Saturday afternoon’s Investec London Cup semi-final against reigning Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and European champions Holland with relish.
The semi-final is live on SuperSport 4 from 3.30 pm. “The knowledge that thousands of South Africans will be supporting us at home gives the team a massive boost,” said SA assistant coach Fabian Gregory after Friday’s practice.
Surprise packages of the tournament South Africa, who shocked world number four Great Britain 3-1 on day one and pushed world number three Germany all the way in a 1-0 defeat in their other Pool B match in this two-pool, six-nation tournament, are keen to test their progress against the world’s top-ranked team as they go into the final stages of their preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games, said Gregory.
“Playing Holland is a fantastic challenge and our girls and management staff are excited at the opportunity to see how we perform against a team that in my opinion is undoubtedly the best side in the world,” said Gregory.
South Africa have surprised one and all with their speed and skills on the ball, especially on the counter-attack, and captain Marsha Marescia, as well as 2011 SA player of the Year Tarryn Bright, with 480 Tests between them, bring enormous experience in the midfield.
“Lesle-Ann George, whose silky skills and pace on the ball turns defence into attack in an instant, is one component of an impressive defensive line. Former SA Junior sprinter Sulette Damons and strike partner Pietie Coetzee, the world record goalscorer (238 goals in 243 Test matches) are just two of the cogs in a dangerous forward line.
“The girls love the added pressure and stimulation of playing the world’s top team,” said Gregory. “We are at the point where we are capable of challenging the best teams in the world.
“We are not yet where we want to be by a long chalk, but if you had asked me when this group started 26 months ago that they would be where they are now, I would have said it was close to impossible.”
The average number of Test matches and age of the SA team is 137 and 27 respectively, with a barely believable total of 2 456 matches between them. The average number of Tests and age amongst the Dutch is 58 and 25 respectively.
“Through our sponsorship by Investec, we have accumulated a massive amount of experience in the past 26 months,” said Gregory. “We have played close to 130 international matches in that time.”
Saturday’s second semi-final sees the Germans against Australia’s Hockeyroos, the world’s seventh-ranked team. The Investec London Cup also includes world number 14 Ireland, who play GB for fifth and sixth places Sunday morning. Sunday’s bronze medal match is at 2.30 pm with the gold medal match at 5 pm. The final is live on SuperSport 6. If SA don’t reach the final, the bronze medal match will also be televised live.