Games beckon for SA | SASCOC - SASCOC

Games beckon for SA

The big day has dawned… our Investec South Africa women’s hockey team are favourites to beat tournament hosts India in the final of the Olympic Qualifier event in New Delhi’s National Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The gold medal match, to be televised live on SuperSport (4.30pm), is between two attacking teams and plenty of goals are anticipated. Should South Africa come up trumps they will be part of Team South Africa at the Olympic Games in London later this year.

Ranked 12th in the world, SA might have a slight edge with leading tournament goalscorer Dirkie Chamberlain (seven goals in the last three matches), fellow forward Sulette Damons (three goals in last two matches) and world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee (two goals in last three matches) a major threat up front.

Nine goals in their last two games with three against, including a 5-2 win over world No13 India in the league phase that was closer than the score might suggest, bears testimony to South Africa’s peaking at just the right time, but the X-factor could play an influential role.

Captain Marsha Marescia’s South Africans will be aware of the tidal wave of emotion that will be driving this Indian women’s team who are bidding to become the first squad from their country to win a place at the Olympic Games since 1980.

While cricket has for some time replaced hockey as the most popular sport in India, hockey is still of huge sentimenatal value to a population that yearns for the return of the fabulous era when their men’s team dominated the world in winning eight Olympic Games titles.

Not altogether unlike South Africa, where women’s sport has long lived in the shadow of their male compatriots, sport has always taken a back seat to men’s sport in India and the success of their women’s team today will make a massive step in the right direction towards righting that wrong.

Ticket prices hiked to three times their normal value have had a backlash effect on India’s crowd support at the National Stadium but head coach CR Kumar’s team can expect the best turnout of the women’s event in the 8pm (Indian time) title match while millions of their countrymen are assured of watching proceedings on TV.

The big question is, will the emotion of the occasion and the expectations of a nation have a positive or negative effect on Indian captain and kingpin Asunta Lakra’s team?

South Africa has 10 players with over 100 Test matches behind them and a whole host who have been in the Olympic Games before, many of whom have played in front of big crowds willing the opposition on, so the occasion is not something that should affect them.

The accurate execution of their technical and tactical plans will be head coach Giles Bonnet and his team’s key to the winner’s podium and with it the much-prized ticket to London.