Proteas to meet world champs
South Africa celebrate (File)
Buenos Aires - The South African women’s hockey team will play world champions Argentina in Sunday’s 22:30 (SA time) final of the Four Nations tournament in Buenos Aires.
On Saturday night, SA struck the first blow against Olympic rivals India when they won their final round-robin match 3-2 after leading 3-0 at half-time.
In Saturday’s late game, Argentina’s world champion Las Leonas (the Lionesses) came back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to draw 2-2 with a motivated Ireland.
Earlier, SA’s goals came from North West striker Sulette Damons, Eastern Province captain Liesel Dorothy and WP forward Kathleen Taylor, while India’s Devi Thokchom got a brace.
Looking ahead to the all-important Olympic Qualifier in Delhi, India in February, Investec South Africa’s match against India in Buenos Aires Saturday night was a litmus test of where the two teams stand right now. SA, ranked 12th in the world, and India 13th, have now played four times in the last two years with India winning twice and SA the last two.
In Delhi only the gold medal will do for the SA squad, as this tournament will be the last chance they have winning a place at the London 2012 Olympics.
Back in Buenos Aires Saturday night, a turnover in the third minute spelt danger for SA but Free State’s Lesley-Ann George got the team out of trouble and soon afterwards India captain Asunta Lakra could have kicked herself for missing a great chance. Then it was crisis time in the SA circle once more, but once again India were not sharp enough. In the sixth, India’s first penalty corner saw Rani Rampal shoot wide.
In the ninth, SA struck at their first attempt when world-class build-up culminated in Northern Blues striker Dirkie Chamberlain’s pass being deflected in by Damons (1-0).
SA had two chances, and then India three, as both sides got stuck in, Western Province and SA keeper Mariette Rix proving her worth throughout the match.
The hockey gods favoured SA in the 16th when Southern Gauteng and SA captain Marsha Marescia’s drive into the circle found Dorothy’s stick and the deflection left the Indian keeper stranded (2-0). Taylor then nailed in a cracking shot (3-0) and George saved on the line at the other end as the match heated up and Indian tempers boiled over in the grandstand.
Just before the changeover Celia Evans of North West had her effort blocked, and there was still time for SA’s first PC, and then another, but WP captain Kate Woods’s flick was well saved by Yogita Bali.
An elaborate corner 10 minutes after the break saw Devi Thokchom pull one back. India’s biggest weapon was their fast break on the turnover and Investec SA did well to contain it until Thokchom got her second with seven minutes left (3-2).
It was an even second half but India made their chances count.
After Sunday's final the teams move to Parana for the second and last Four Nations tournament.
On returning home on December 22, the SA hockey women will have a short Christmas/New Year break before beginning yet another national camp in Johannesburg in the second week of January, which precedes the Investec Series involving South Africa, Spain, Ireland and Belgium at Randburg Hockey Stadium from January 15 to February 6.
And then it's on to Delhi, where the SA women's team will be fervently hoping that gold lies at the end of the rainbow...
Day 1: Investec SA 2 Ireland 0; Argentina 3 India 2
Day 2: Ireland 1 India 0; Argentina 4 Investec SA 1
Day 3: Investec SA 3 India 2; Argentina 2 Ireland 2Finals day:
Third/fourth: Ireland vs India (20:00 SA time)
First/second: Argentina vs Investec South Africa (22:30 SA time)