Heartbreak for SA women
Claire Verhage challenges South Africa captain Marsha Marescia (Photo: Ady Kerry)
Cape Town - The South Africa women's hockey team came agonisingly close to upsetting Olympic Games champions Holland but went down 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the scores were 2-2 at full-time in the semi-finals of the London Cup on Saturday afternoon.
The nearest South Africa have come to beating the world hockey giants was a 5-5 draw in 2004.
Two brilliant strikes by world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee, which took her tally to 240 goals in 244 Test matches, brought South Africa close after a slow start.
This was followed by an excellent stick save, low to her right, by Holland goalkeeper Floortje Engels following a Coetzee drag-flick in the 47th minute.
South Africa started slowly and Holland's mean machine clicked into gear with two goals in the first 12 minutes.
Their centre midfielder, Naomi van As, carved holes through the middle of the pitch and was aided by the world No 1 team's ability to stretch the SA defence with telling attacks down the left and right wings.
In the third minute, Kelly Jonker displayed admirable composure to nail the opening goal into the backboard before Holland captain and ace drag-flicker Maartje Paumen roofed her team's first penalty corner into the top of the net in the 12th minute.
With SA captain Marsha Marescia having a superb game, the girls in green and gold rallied and Coetzee weaved her way across the top of the Dutch defensive third before hitting a reverse-stick shot into the far corner three minutes from half-time.
Coetzee made it 2-2 with 15 minutes left in the match after Tarryn Bright had earned a penalty corner and the superstar's drag-flick went whizzing past Engels in goal.
South Africa's ability to get a string of passes together made all the difference and the pressure told as several players on both sides were condemned to the sin-bin by the umpires.
The teams matched each other in the first two rounds of the penalty shootout, which entailed an attacker having eight seconds to score in a one-on-one against the goalkeeper, but Holland edged ahead to win the best-of-five shootout 4-2 with one round left.
South africa will meet Germany in the bronze medal match on Sunday (14:15 SA time) after the Germans lost their their semi-final clash to 3-2 Australia on Saturday.
The gold medal match between Holland and Australia is at 17:00 SA time on Sunday.