A clinical Belgium won the first Test of the two-Test series 3-1 against the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
Belgium led 1-0 at half-time through Stephanie de Groof before Alix Gerniers added another 12 minutes after the break. SA pulled one back via a Kate Woods penalty corner but a Sofie Gierts penalty stroke restored the two-goal margin three minutes from the end.
Mindful of what is sure to be a physically taxing Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Delhi that starts in a fortnight’s time, SA’s 33-year-old world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee was rested for the third consecutive match, while Lesle-Ann George (Free State) and Jade Mayne (WP) celebrated their 150th and 50th Test appearances respectively.
Belgium earned a soft PC in the third minute and De Groof opened the scoring. Soon after, Annie-Sophie van Regemortel shot wide. Belgium won a second and third PC but sound defence from goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa and first wave defender Sulette Damons dispelled the danger.
In the 25 minutes to half-time SA got into several very good positions in the strike zone and were most unfortunate when Belgian umpire Laurine Delforge disallowed what looked to be a textbook goal finished off by Damons after nifty work down the right channel from co-striker Dirkie Chamberlain.
By the 26th minute SA won their first PC and were dominating the game but didn’t take advantage of further genuine goalscoring opportunities as the half-time clock wound down.
After the re-start SA strikers Lauren Penny and Chamberlain had shots saved by keeper Aisling D’Hooghe, Damons came close once again before Belgium’s Emilie Sinia shot into the side-netting. In the 47th minute Belgium went 2-0 up against the run of play through Alix Gerniers.
The revitalised Belgians enjoyed a productive spell and skilful captain Charlotte de Vos earned her side’s fourth PC before Helene Delmee was agonisingly close. A turnover resulted in Belgium’s fifth PC and De Groof’s slap-shot was padded away by Mangisa.
SA continued to mount goal-threatening moves and with seven minutes left captain Marsha Marescia, in her 275th Test match ÔÇô the most capped athlete in any SA team sport ÔÇô showed true grit in shrugging off heavy tackles to win the girls in green and gold’s second PC, which Woods smashed into the backboard (2-1).
Belgium hit back and their sixth PC saw an Anouk Raes strike result in Delforge awarding a disputed penalty stroke, which the superb Sofie Gierts flashed into the roof of the net three minutes from time (3-1).
The second Test is at 11am on Sunday at Randburg.