By Mark Etheridge
South Africa started their 2012 Olympic Games campaign with the worse possible case scenario, going down 7-1 to second-ranked Argentina in their Group B women’s hockey match at the Riverbank Arena in London on Sunday.
The South Africans had trailed 5-1 at halftime and despite holding the South Americans to a 2-0 scoreline in the second half the damage had been done after a merciless display by the Argentinians.
Fifteen minutes into the second half the score was still 5-1 after goals had earlier rained down on the South African goal harder than the summer showers crossing London.
Nine minutes into the second half the combination of Jen Wilson and Pietie Coetzee nearly earned reward after a committed Wilson had flung herself flat out on the blue astroturf in order to supply Coetzee with a cross that she narrowly squeezed wide.
The South Africans looked a far more accomplished side in the second half and with 10 minutes to go a penalty corner, their first, saw captain Marsha Marescia’s pinpoint cross to Coetzee eliciting a sharp save from goalkeeper Florencia Mutio.
But with eight minutes to Argentinia made it six of the best (for the SA side it was six of the worst) as Noel Barrionuenvo slammed one past Rix.
And then with just two minutes to go there was a final nail in the backboard of the SA goal when Silvina D’Elia slammed home as the SA defence failed to close her down.
In the first half the Argentinians had been awarded eight short penalty corners and scored from three of them.
An eighth minute penalty corner by Argentina super-striker Luciana Aymar saw coach Giles Bonnet’s girls on the back foot from the go-get in their Group B match as they struggled to get out of their own half.
Wave after wave of Argentinian assaults found SA goalkeeper Mariette Rix the busiest player on the field.
The first goal came from Argentina’s third short corner as Aymar came in from the left to hit a low drive goalwards which Rix was only to parry off her pads and into the backboard.
Then in the 20th minutes Josefina Sruoga slotted home after Rix had blocked a shot that Kate Woods was just unable to clear out of the danger zone (2-0).
South Africa then got on the scoresheet with 20 minutes to go after good work from Wilson down the right found an unmarked Dirkie Chamberlain.
But the second ranked Argentinians restored their two-goal lead with 10 to play through Marina Cavallero as a cross flashed in from the right and Cavallero flat-sticked it home.
South Africa’s woes weren’t over yet though as Aymar, the woman they call La Maga (the Magician), conjured up some lovely work in the South African D before making it 4-1.
It got worse when Carla Rebecci made it 5-1 with a flat-sticked shot from the left.
Next up for the South Africans are New Zealand on Tuesday and after Sunday’s nightmare Bonnet’s troops are going to have to regroup in spectacular fashion if their Olympic dream is to have any chance of being realised.