Cape Town - If ever a goalless draw could be considered an absolute thriller, it has to be world No 11 South Africa’s 0-0 stalemate with world six Germany at the Women’s World League Semi Final hockey tournament in Valencia, Spain on Tuesday.
SA’s courageous, skilful performance means they now meet in-form Pool A winners Great Britain in the first quarter-final at 11:30 on Thursday (live on SuperSport 7).
With the South African Sports Congress and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) deeming the accepted International Olympic Committee (IOC) route of SA qualifying for Rio 2016 through retaining the Africa Cup of Nations - scheduled for Egypt in October - as not being of sufficient standing, reaching the quarter-finals in Valencia was an absolute must if SA were to keep the dream alive.
The in-form Germans had played some sublime hockey in Valencia while SA had struggled to develop consistency and rhythm, yet the girls in green and gold showed true grit in drawing 0-0 and in turn denying the Europeans their expected top-place finish in Pool B.
A defeat by more than a five-goal margin would have seen world No 29 Uruguay - who enjoyed a shock 1-1 draw with SA on Sunday - progress to the quarter-finals ahead of SA. A defeat by a five-goal margin would mean a penalty shootout with Uruguay to determine who would meet Great Britain in the quarters on Thursday.
Bottom line: South Africa needed to make sure that nothing worse than a four-goal defeat would suffice.
In the fifth minute Germany won a penalty corner (PC), followed by another after SA first wave Lilian du Plessis blocked the first one. The second PC brought a superb double-save from SA ‘keeper Sanani Mangisa, first throwing herself acrobatically to the left to stick-save and then standing tall to stop the follow-up shot.
At the other end German ‘keeper Kristina Reynolds made a remarkable triple save, the first from Shelley Russell, second from Du Plessis - a reverse-stick effort from close - and third from Dirkie Chamberlain’s deflection off Ilse Davids’ pass, this after quality build-up down the right by Bernie Coston.
In the 11th Mangisa came off her line with exquisite timing to make a stick intervention after narrowing the angle with a German attacker who had found space down the right. Mangisa played a critical role in keeping SA in the game when matters were not going according to plan.
Two minutes after the re-start Davids set Chamberlain free down the left with a beautiful pass before the striker showed her skill in winning a PC. The corner injection from the baseline spot was off-target but SA recovered well to win a second set-piece. The German PC defenders then showed cool heads in releasing the pressure after a dangerous moment in the mouth of goal.
A moment of indiscretion saw Germany give away a soft PC after admirable pressure from SA captain Nicolene Terblanche, and although the trapping of the ball at the top of the strike zone from the initial corner injection was poor, SA recovered to again put the favourites under pressure, but the scoresheet remained blank. As the clock ticked towards half-time, Terblanche, leading from the front, was gutsy in defence in stopping a German goal shot, while a disputed PC award with 32 seconds left was disallowed by the TV umpire on appeal.
While Germany had spent more time in the SA half, the highly motivated girls in green and gold had done exceptionally well in winning the PC count and sharing the shots on goal. Turning around 0-0 after the half-time break, the question was whether the SA tactic of using their rolling substitutes sparingly and relying on the more experienced players would result in tired legs as the match wore on.
The third quarter of 15 minutes saw Germany control the possession but SA, providing they could limit goal shots to a minimum, were content with that. In the 43rd minute SA stole possession and Russell fed Kelly Madsen, who won a PC, but the opportunity was not converted into a dividend on the scoresheet.
At 0-0 in the final quarter, both sides had an early chance before sheer grit from Coston earned SA’s fifth PC with seven minutes left and German 'keeper Reynolds did well to save from Lisa Deetlefs’ strike.
A minute later, Germany were awarded a disputed PC that was reversed on appeal.
With three minutes left, a Hannah Kruger PC drag-flick bullet brought out another outstanding stick-save from the magnificent Mangisa and SA’s Olympic dream stayed alive.
Starting: Sanani Mangisa (GK), Lisa Deetlefs, Erin Hunter, Line Malan, Celia Evans, Nicolene Terblanche (capt), Shelley Russell, Jade Mayne, Kelly Madsen, Bernie Coston, Dirkie Chamberlain.
Rolling subs: Anelle van Deventer (GK), Nicole Walraven, Quanita Bobbs, Illse Davids, Lilian du Plessis, Candice Manuel, Tanya Britz.