The Investec South Africa women’s hockey team struck the first blow against Olympic rivals India when they won 3-2 after leading 3-0 at half-time in their crucial Four Nations match in Buenos Aires late on Saturday night.
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 in reply.
The SA team are likely to meet world champions Argentina in Sunday’s final, unless Ireland pulled off an unlikely victory by two clear goals over Las Leonas (the Lionesses) in Saturday’s late game.
Looking ahead to the all-important Olympic Qualifier in Delhi in February, the match was a litmus test of where the two sides 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.
A turnover in the third minute spelt danger but Free State’s Lesle-Ann George got the team out of trouble and soon after 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 Thokchom pull one back. India’s biggest weapon was their fast break on the turnover and 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.