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Expect a sizzler!

There will be no love lost as well as some old scores to settle when the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team face Spain in the first of the five-match Investec International Series between the two countries at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Sunday (2pm).

With the Spaniards ranked 11th in the world to South Africa’s 12th there is little to choose between the two sides and so it proved in their three Test matches last year.

The teams met in a two-Test series in Spain last June and the hotly-contested encounters both went the home country’s way by the odd goal but not without the South Africans feeling more than a little aggrieved with some of the critical umpiring decisions made by the home umpires.

However, the real drama was still to come at the Champions Challenge in Ireland a fortnight later, a tournament in which SA’s Olympic governing body SASCOC said captain Marsha Marescia’s squad had to reach the final in order to satisfy the governing body that the team was worthy of going to the London 2012 Olympics.

This was despite the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements which stipulated that the SA team need only win the Africa Cup, which they later did, to qualify for London.

The FIH’s experimental tournament format in Dublin also did SA no favours. For the first time, all eight sides qualified for the title play-offs no matter where they finished in the preliminary round. Quarter-finals were played for the first time and instead of SA, who topped Pool A, going straight to the semi-finals, as was the norm, they had to play Spain, bottom of Pool B, in the quarter-finals.

The upshot was that SA had over 30 entries into the strike zone to Spain’s three, yet the Spaniards won 3-2 in golden goal extra-time. The winner came from a penalty corner awarded for what the South Africans deemed to be a theatrical dive by a Spanish forward worthy of any soccer player.

Considering the animosity between the teams in recent times and with world goalscoring record holder Pietie Coetzee of Southern Gauteng returning to the SA team after a brief rest, spectators can expect fireworks of a special kind.

A further incentive is that the SA and Spanish players need to impress their respective national selectors ahead of the last-chance Olympic Qualifier tournaments that take place for South Africa in Delhi, India in February ÔÇô and in Belgium for the Spaniards in March.

The SA team will be named on Saturday at the conclusion of the national squad training camp.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿The other SA versus Spain Test matches at Randburg take place at 7pm on Tuesday and Thursday next week, and at 2pm next Saturday and Sunday.

A South African Junior Invitational squad will play an SA Invitation team in the curtain-raiser. Tickets at the gate are R20.

The series will be followed by the Investec Tri Nations between SA, Belgium and Ireland at Randburg from 25 January  to 6 February.


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