Despite going down 3-1 to Argentina in their opening Spar Cup Four hockey match in Durban last night, there was reason for the South African women’s team to keep their heads up.
Argentina, captained by the fabulously skilled Luciana Aymar, are world hockey’s second-best country and with all due respect the host nation were expected to lose by a lot more.
So coach Jenny King and co-captain Mariette Rix will take a lot out of the opening encounter.
With the score locked at 1-1 with 50 minutes gone South Africa┬á were still in with the chance of earning a vital log point and were still right in it as they trailed┬á 2-1 with two minutes to go.
All the goals came via the penalty corner route, SA opening the scoring eight minutes before half-time when a delighted Vidette Ryan deflected Cindy Brown’s strike past goalkeeper Belen Succi.
Five minutes later, Argentina’s Claudia Burkart got the first of two (she also hit the last goal a couple of minutes before the final whistle).
Midway through the second half Silvina D’Elia had made it 2-1 to the South Americans after the sides had been deadlocked a goal apiece at the halftime.
‘I rate that performance eight out of 10,” said King afterwards. ‘I couldn’t have asked for more, it was a disciplined, patient performance.’
Co-captain Rix, the outstanding SA goalkeeper, said her team-mates coped well with what was at times extreme pressure.
The tricky runs of Aymar created havoc in the SA defensive lines, but they stuck to their guns and didn’t allow the four-time World Player of the Year the opportunity to overwhelm the local opposition completely ÔÇô which King pointed out can happen quite easily.
Rix said the defenders and midfielders did very well in closing down Argentina’s space to run at SA from the midfield, as is their wont. ‘Our back three were outstanding,’ she said. King also praised Vidette Ryan for the man-marking job she did on the mercurial Aymar.
The decision to release co-captain Marsha Marescia from the burden of sole captaincy had brought out the best in SA’s most recognised player, the coach added.
‘Marsha played very smart hockey, it was a top performance from Rixie in goal and the mental shift the team took today was exceptional,’ King said. The SA coach added that her team would need ‘quick, early passes’ to beat India in Wednesday’s crunch 4pm encounter.
In the earlier Test, a well-organised Australia beat a plucky India 3-1 in what was a faster-paced match than the tactical battle of wits seen in the second clash.