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SOUTH AFRICAN SPORTS CONFEDERATION AND OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

SA no match for Australia but have high hopes for bronze

By Gary Lemke

The good news is that South Africa’s women’s hockey team became the first country to score against Australia at these Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The bad news is that Australia scored seven to reach Saturday’s final.

However, that 7-1 scoreline flattered Australia. As coach Giles Bonnet said afterwards, ‘they are a great team, we know that. We didn’t expect anything other than that [defeat]. When you look at the game they converted a high percentage of their scoring chances, they were clinical.’

He agreed that there could have been a different complexion to the game had a Dirkie Chamberlain effort not been cleared off the line in the 23rd minute. The score at that stage was 2-0 and South Africa had given as good as they had got. They’d fallen behind in the 17th minute and a Kellie White deflection in the 21st minute made it two.

Had Chamberlain’s goal-bound shot not been cleared off the line it would have been 2-1 and the game would have had a different feel to it. Not that there is any disputing as to who was the better side, especially evident in the second half.

Marsha Cox, who tells it like it is, admitted ‘we played poorly in the second half. You can’t make the number of errors that we did against a top team like Australia because they’ll punish you. Which they did. They capitalised on our errors.’

But, in plucking the positives out of the wreckage of the defeat, both the captain and coach have reason to believe that the bronze medal is within their grasp on Saturday. Four years ago they lost 1-0 to England and they will be using the pain of that as motivation in the shootout.

‘Our mentality will change tomorrow. There are a number of girls who were in that 2010 team and it will be easy to motivate them. It was hard to get that close without coming away with a medal,’ Cox said.

‘We can also take confidence from the fact that we scored in every match that we’ve played here this tournament. We can also take strength from our defence at the penalty corners, which has been consistently strong. Again today we didn’t concede from a penalty corner.’

Australia’s seven all came from field goals, and they’re not the No1 side on the planet without reason. They were brutal in a three-minute period up to the 50th minute when they hit the back of the net three times, with sweeping counter-attacks that came from breaking up play in midfield.

South Africa’s goal came when they were 5-0 down when Celia Evans converted a cross sent in from the right after a good run by Sulette Damons. Almost immediately normal service was resumed when it became 6-1 and Australia completed the rout in the 67th minute while Lilian du Plessis was serving a five-minute ban on the touchline. It’s hard enough playing Australia with 11 women, let alone 10.

Although there weren’t enough chances created in front of goal, the retirement of one of the sport’s great strikers, Pietie Coetzee, has obviously been felt. ‘We do miss her – and what we miss most is her drag flick. She was the best. But it’s now time for some of the youngsters to step up and do their bit. We have to look forward. Had we scored when 2-0 down it would have been interesting. We wanted to exert some pressure on them but were unable to,’ Bonnet said.

Bonnet had been expecting New Zealand to beat England in the other semi-final, but it didn’t turn out that way as England won the shootout after the scores had been 1-1. ‘We have plenty to look forward to. We played New Zealand in the group stages and lost 2-1.’

That suggests that South Africa against the Kiwis will again be close. So close that they are within touching distance of a bronze medal. And that would represent their best return ever at a Commonwealth Games.

Image courtesy Wessel Oosthuizen

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