Spain break SA hearts
Dublin - They say that possession is nine-tenths of the law, but in sport that’s not always enough.
The unbeaten Investec South Africa women’s hockey team had 80% of possession and even more than that as far as shots on goal were concerned, yet they somehow lost 3-2 to Spain on a golden goal in the last minute of extra-time in the first Champions Challenge quarter-final in Dublin, Ireland on Thursday. SA will now play for fifth to eighth place, starting on Friday against opponents to be determined later on Thursday..
SA opened the scoring through Sulette Damons before the wily, streetwise Raquel Huertas deflected in the equaliser from Spain’s first penalty corner for the teams to turn around 1-1. Spain’s second PC was netted by Barbara Malda before the talismanic Pietie Coetzee equalised with a PC two minutes from full-time. And it was Huertas, the right-side forward with an enviable ability to impress umpires with her theatrics, who manufactured Spain’s golden goal-winning PC that was ultimately scored by Pilar Sanchez.
The experimental tournament format has bitten SA badly. As winners of Pool A, captain Marsha Marescia’s side would traditionally have gone straight into the semi-finals. Yet in a controversial and unpopular bid by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to keep the tournament outcome alive for as long as possible, the teams finishing outside the top two in pool play were given a second bite at the cherry. And winless Spain, last in Pool B, scrapped tooth and nail to make it count.
Of the plethora of South African shots at goalkeeper Maria Lopez from approximately 35 circle entries, at least four were gilt-edged and yet try as they might, the tournament’s leading goalscorers after the preliminary round couldn’t find the target enough times to make the difference.
Over the 85 minutes’ play, Spain had just three entries into the strike zone. Three penalty corners were awarded, two from outside the circle for what were deemed deliberate infringements by umpires Wendy Stewart of Canada and France’s Claire Adenot - and Spain converted all three.
Granted, the cock-a-hoop Spaniard’s PCs were well constructed, with variations catching SA out, while the girls in red also got numbers behind the ball in defence and frustrated the rampant, but goal-shy South African forwards. The girls in green and gold also tended to get isolated in defence on the rare times Spain mounted an attack, but credit must go to head coach Salvador Indurain for preparing a crafty gameplan.
Coetzee and her team-mates up front constantly found the tenacious Spanish defenders biting at their heels, while crucial umpiring decisions might have gone the girls in green and gold's way on another day. Quite simply, it was not South Africa's day.