A blustery wind and hot conditions did little to deter the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team as they chalked up their second successive win at the Africa Cup Olympic Games Qualifier tournament in Bulawayo on Monday and qualified for Sunday’s final.
SA beat Ghana 3-0 after leading 2-0 at half-time and scored through Western Province’s Shelley Russell (2) and national and Southern Gauteng captain Marsha Marescia, which gives them two from two going into their final round-robin match against Zimbabwe on Thursday. SA beat Kenya 9-0 in match one.
Marescia’s 251st Test cap on Monday now means the all-time record number of appearances for South Africa is her own, having equalled the previous mark set by current SA men’s head coach Gregg Clark in the Kenya match.
SA immediately put Ghana under pressure and Russell won the first penalty corner. Cindy Botha injected the corner, Jade Mayne trapped the ball, Tarryn Bright made the disguised shot/pass and Russell, running in from the right, was on hand to score with a neat deflection.
Trailing 1-0 after six minutes Ghana faced a mountain to climb as the South Africans were moving the ball with assurance, stretching the underdogs’ defensive screen and making incisive breaks into the scoring zone.
The Ghanaians were fortunate that goalkeeper Grace Mensah was on top of her game and she made half-a-dozen early saves using various parts of her body and protective gear to keep the score respectable.
But there was no way out when SA scythed through on the right and neat interplay led to Russell’s second (2-0). Ghana were employing some heavy tackles as the match threatened to run away from them. On half-time Kim Hubach’s slap shot from SA’s seventh penalty corner cannoned into the post.
Given their dominance, and no one worked harder than Illse Davids in her 50th match, SA will feel a little aggrieved that they hadn’t put more past Mensah in the first 35. Two minutes after the break pacy Rachael Bamfo created excitement in the Ghana camp but her shot from inside the six-yard box was well saved by alert keeper Sanani Mangisa.
At the other end Investec SA made it 3-0 from their eighth PC, an inch-perfect deflection goal by Marescia running in from the left that sailed high into the net.
Where SA might have made more of their opportunities was if they had been a little more patient, trying to go from A to Z instead of A to B and then C, but they weren’t helped by some interesting decisions from the Kenyan and Zimbabwean umpires. At the same time, Mensah had a brilliant game and there was no doubt which camp was more pleased with the performance.