The South African women knew they would be up against it as they took on the World and European champions Netherlands their Pool A match in Tokyo, with the final score being 5-0 down.
Playing the morning game for the first time would also throw in the small matter of heat for the young South Africa side to contend with. They had lost their first two matches, to Ireland and Great Britain, and were up against it here.
One player who seemed to use the heat to inspire her own performance was South African flagbearer Phumelela Mbande who, on her 50th cap, produced one of her finest performances. The South African shotstopper stood firm for 15 penalty corners, only conceding on two. And although she conceded five goals, she made a remarkable 18 saves in a performance that embodies the South African grit and determination.
The scoreline could have been worse. The Dutch had 28 shots to South Africa’s one.
Netherlands opened the scoring through the devastating Matla early in the second chukka after a goalless first quarter. The timing of the goal would have been disappointing after such a good first quarter, but the South Africans continued their focused approach and found themselves still only one goal down at the break.
The work and pressure were starting to tell on the South Africans and in the third quarter they added two more goals that made the game safe. Matla scoring with a mishit that caught Mbande off guard and Keetels added one more before the break.
South Africa were determined to keep the scoreline down and showed some great work in cleaning up the rebounds and clearing the efforts, while offering good support to Mbande when she made a save. Mbande was pulling off her own masterclass, with the highlight a remarkable stick save from a Matla drag flick.
But with time running out Alyson Annan’s team made it comfortable with two more goals. Albers and Verscoor the goalscorers as the gap between the teams was extended to 5-0. That is how the game would end. Netherlands continues their march to a potential gold medal, while the South Africans will now prepare for the game against European Championship silver medallists Germany on Friday.
Photo: Anton Geyser