There’s nothing quite like the curve ball that has a team contemplating their quarter-final opponents only to be told a few hours later that the opponent has changed, as well as the start time of the match, writes Jon Cook from London.
That was the case with the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team here on Tuesday night. A heartening performance, despite being edged 1-0 by world number six Australia in their final Investec World League Pool B match, had set up what the form book suggested was a quarter-final on Thursday against Pool A runners-up and world number seven China.
However, world number 15 Spain had other ideas and their spirited 1-1 draw with world number four England meant they edged ahead of SA on the log and the Spaniards now take up the challenge of meeting China, while the South Africans will be facing world number two, reigning 2010 World Cup champions and London 2012 Olympic Games silver medallists Argentina in the quarter-finals five hours earlier.
The tight-knit SA line-up, who have a remarkable team spirit, will meet Argentina’s Las Leonas (The Lionesses) in the first quarter-final at 1.30pm Thursday (live on SuperSport 1).
South Africa have their own stars, such as the likes of the outstanding Shelley Russell, Marsha Cox and company, not to mention world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee among others, but it is in their collective spirit and cohesion as a group that the girls in green and gold should have the edge.
SA will be competing against seven-time World Player of the Year Luciana Aymar, or La Maga (The Magician) as she is known by some, as well as the considerable skill of defender and drag-flick expert Noel Barrionuevo, Carla Rebecchi and others.
South Africa’s early advantages against England (lost 4-1) and Spain (drew 2-2) did not turn into goals and it is perhaps a greater self-belief in the strike zone that might make the difference.
Argentina have not really clicked either, playing well in patches in the 1-0, 3-2 and 4-0 defeats of world number 10 the USA, China and world 17 Italy , so both sides will have a point to prove.
The lure of a place in Saturday’s semi-finals and 2014 World Cup qualification is also enough to suggest that motivation will not be a problem for either coaching staff.
What is certain is that superstar personas will count for nothing Thursday. Each player has the opportunity to be a match-winner on the day and the team that finds the requisite cohesion will outmatch their opponents.
This quarter-final represents a blank sheet of paper and it is up to each team and each player to decide what will be written on the page of history. Destiny will most certainly be in the hands of the brave.
(All SA times, all to be televised live on SuperSport 1)
1.30pm: Argentina vs Investec South Africa
4pm: Australia vs USA
6.30pm: China vs Spain
9pm: England vs Italy
INVESTEC WORLD LEAGUE FINAL LOGS
Pool A: Argentina (goal difference +6), pts 9; China (GD +1), pts 6; Italy (GD -4), pts 3; USA (GD -3), pts 0
Pool B: Australia (goal difference +6), points 7; England (GD +3), pts 5; Spain (GD -5), pts 2; South Africa (GD -4), pts
INVESTEC SOUTH AFRICA WOMEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
Sanani Mangisa (Southern Gauteng), Phume Mbande (Northern Blues), Lenise Marais (KZN Coastal Raiders), Marcelle Keet (Border), Nicolene Terblanche (NB), Illse Davids (Western Province), Shelley Russell (WP), Tarryn Bright (WP), Pietie Coetzee (SG), Quanita Bobbs (WP), Sulette Damons (North West), Dirkie Chamberlain (NB), Jade Mayne (WP), Tanya Britz (Free State), Lilian du Plessis (NB), Izelle Lategan (FS), Kelly Madsen (KCR), Marsha Marescia (SG).