SA hockey women shine in London
11 June 2012
South Africa's women's hockey team finished the Investec London Cup in fourth place on Sunday, and will take plenty of positives away from their performances against some of the world's best teams only two months before the Olympic Games.
Captain Marsha Marescia was inspirational and was named Player of the Tournament after the conclusion of the action. It was about more than the skipper alone, however, as South Africa showed the benefit of an excellent sponsorship from Investec that has allowed the team to compete regularly around the world against the leading hockey-playing nations.
Most importantly, Giles Bonnet's charges never looked overawed despite facing world number one The Netherlands, number three Germany twice, and number four Great Britain. They gave as good as they got.
In fact, the South African team produced its best performance of the event on Saturday when they had the better of a 2-2 draw with The Netherlands before losing out on a penalty shootout for a place in Sunday's final. They had qualified for the semi-finals after a 3-1 defeat of Britain and a 1-0 loss to Germany in a tightly-contested encounter.
After a shaky opening 10 minutes against the Dutch, South Africa produced a resilient and impressive display. They placed the defending Olympic champions under significant pressure and came within a superb stick save by goalkeeper Floortje Engels of making it into the title-decider.
The Netherlands raced into the lead in only the third minute after some fine work from Kelly Jonker in the circle left goalkeeper Mariette Rix without a chance of stopping the striker's shot.
After 10 minutes it was 2-0 when Dutch skipper and penalty corner specialist Maartje Pauman struck from a penalty corner.
Lifted their game
After that, the girls in green and gold could easily have gone into their shell. Instead, they lifted their game and pulled the Dutch defence this way and that in an effort to find a reply.
A goal finally came the way of South Africa three minutes from time and it was a special effort by the world's all-time leading scorer in internationals, Pietie Coetzee.
Receiving the ball outside the circle, she beat two players before pulling the ball to her weak side just inside the circle. Coetzee then delivered a superb reverse stick shot into the bottom left hand corner of Engels' goal to reduce the deficit to 2-1 at half-time.
Beaten all ends up
After the break, Engels pulled off a remarkable stick save from a Coetzee drag flick at a penalty corner. The striker, however, beat the goalie all ends up when South African won another penalty corner.
Time ran out on both teams, and with a finalist to be decided, the match went straight to a penalty shootout. The Netherlands handled it better and advanced 4-2 from the penalty spot. Despite the loss, South Africa showed they could duke it out with the best.
On Sunday, South Africa faced Germany in the playoff for third place. The contest was comfortably decided in Germany's favour thanks to their more clinical finishing, but it really should have been a lot closer than the final score of 6-2.
Plenty of chances
Marescia and company took the game to the Germans and created plenty of chances, which they might have scored from on another day, but not on this one. Germany, meanwhile, waited to hit South Africa on the counter-attack and it worked out well for them.
It is interesting to note, though, that a team ranked as highly as the Germans felt that taking the game to 12th-ranked South Africa was not the way to go, which underlines the standard of hockey produced by the African champions in London.
At half-time it was 2-1 to Germany after a penalty goal from Natascha Keller and a field goal from Kristina Hillman, which sandwiched a goal from Dirkie Chamberlain, who pounced on a rebound from a Pietie Coetzee shot on goal.
Remarkable goal scoring record
South Africa continued to press in the second stanza, but were rewarded only once when Coetzee lifted her remarkable goal scoring record to 241 goals in 245 internationals.
Germany did far better, managing four goals in a 19-minute spell, including a penalty corner from Julia Muller, two field goals from Janine Beerman and one from Katharina Otte.
The Netherlands went on to lift the Investec London Cup, easily defeating Australia 4-1 in the final. Great Britain finished fifth after a 3-0 win over Ireland.
"It has been an exceptional tournament for us," assistant coach Fabian Gregory said after South Africa's final match.
"We played very well against Germany in the first half today, and while they got four goals in the second half, we had more goal shots.
A London Olympics medal
"If we are more clinical in our finishing and defend well, there is no reason why we can't get a medal at London 2012.
"I am happy with what we achieved and am excited about what we can still achieve in the build-up to London 2012."
Captain Marescia commented: "We leave this tournament motivated in knowing there is still work to be done."
The South African players will next undergo physical training for three weeks in South Africa before returning to Europe early in July for two unofficial tests against The Netherlands and Great Britain.After that, they will play in a Four Nations tournament against Germany and fellow London 2012 contenders New Zealand and Belgium.
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