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SA close to Olympic dream

2012-02-22 16:25
Dirkie Chamberlain (AP)
New Delhi - A fantastic effort during the last quarter of the match in the 5-2 win over India Wednesday ensured the South Africa women’s hockey team are through to the final of the Olympic Qualifier Tournament, which takes place at 16:30 (SA time) in New Delhi, India on Saturday.

A superb Dirkie Chamberlain hat-trick and an impressive brace from fellow striker Sulette Damons was enough to douse the fire of a spirited India who had fought their way back to 2-2 midway through the second after trailing 2-1 at half-time.

“This one will go in the memory bank,” said Chamberlain. “We love having Pietie with us but as strikers it is the job of all of us to score goals. We have looked at our mistakes on video from previous games, have learnt from them and are now out to get goals.”

The SA team's talismanic striker, world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee, did not play for the second match in a row. Coetzee (232 goals in 236 Test matches) is recovering from a viral infection that condemned her to bed-rest on Monday morning.

“I have been struggling to get goals and have been trying to force it but finally today I found the breakthrough and am so happy to be on the scoresheet. We miss Pietie as she is an inspiration but when she is not there it is up to us youngsters to stand up and be counted,” said an elated Damons.

“We are now one game away from qualifying for the Olympic Games and the team is in good spirits after scoring five beautiful goals,” said South Africa’s Dutch trainer Phil Estourgie. “We haven’t thought about the Canada game yet but will look at it with the final on Saturday in mind.”

Wednesday’s 5-2 win over India means SA are on 10 points with Italy on eight and India seven.

In the last round of league competition, India and Italy meet at 14:30 (SA time) on Friday. A draw will take Italy to the final against SA, but India must win to reach the final and knock Italy out of the reckoning at the same time.

South Africa, already on 10 points, meet Canada 10:30 (SA time) on Friday (live on SuperSport 6) and the result will have no bearing on the girls in green and gold taking their place in the gold medal match, the outcome of which will ensure the victor a berth at the London 2012 Olympic Games in July/August.

In the 13th minute Kate Woods’s third penalty corner attempt was a powerful straight shot at goalkeeper Yogita Bali and striker Chamberlain finished off the rebound for the opening goal (1-0).

India equalised in the 23rd minute from their third penalty, which was struck home by captain Asunta Lakra (1-1).

The 2011 SA Player of the Year Tarryn Bright was in outstanding form as the attacking midfielder but it was captain Marsha Marescia’s pass to the incisive Shelley Russell that set up the second goal just three minutes from half-time when the superb Chamberlain knocked the rebound into the net (2-1).

Turning around 2-1 to the good, SA were hit by a series of Indian attacks and penalty corners including a cracking Rani Rampal shot from field play that cannoned into the post. The pressure eventually had to tell and midway through the second half India equalised from their sixth penalty corner of the match when Lakra’s shot was eventually shovelled over the goalline by Soundarya Yendala (2-2).

At 2-2 with 17 minutes left the tide was with India but the girls in green and gold went into overdrive and equalised from the re-start when Bernadette Coston cut in from the left for striker Sulette Damons to round off and put head coach Giles Bonnet’s team back in front (3-2).

The goal galvanised the South Africans and five minutes later a quick, accurate Nicolene Terblanche free-hit was met with the perfect deflection high into the net by hat-trick hero Chamberlain (4-2).

Not to be outdone, Chamberlain’s strike partner Damons netted her second goal after yet another superb assist from the hugely influential Kathleen Taylor (5-2).

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