There was realistically more hope than expectation as Supergroup South Africa took on World number 3 Argentina in their final game of the FIH Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup. The African champions had experienced a harrowing tournament so far falling short against Spain and Germany, to all but dispel pre-tournament optimism.
The match marked the 250th match for South Africa for stalwart Lisa-Marie Deetlefs. If for nothing else the team would have been committed to making this a memorable match for the defensive star. And it appeared to be exactly the case as the Supergroup South African side put out a defensive masterclass in holding off an Argentina side that looked short of the regular magic.
Phumelela Mbande will take most of the plaudits, rightfully so, as the player of the match was also undoubtedly South Africa’s most outstanding player of the World Cup. There may be questions about why she was subbed against Spain, but Mbande does her talking on the pitch and was on sensational form in not conceding from 13 penalty corners and at least ten further field goals. The biggest question going forward is how will Phumz manage here professional career and her sporting one, because she has become that important to the national team.
South Africa’s strikers had failed to get on the scoresheet throughout the tournament so far, but Jade Mayne had made a menace in the previous games through outstanding movement and positioning. That it was her that got the goal through an opportunistic move and finish was almost a sense of inevitability as South Africa took a surprising 1-0 lead into the Half-time break.
Simone Gouws, who made her debut only in the matches against Canada during the pre-World Cup camp, showed remarkable maturity and alongside the likes of Kara-Lee Botes, Erin Hunter and Deetlefs will continue to develop remarkably. Her performance during the World Cup left a feeling of optimism for the future of SA Women’s Hockey.
For all the defensive superlatives that were hurled South Africa’s way, the weight of pressure eventually did tell, and Argentina pulled level through Maria Granatto, they were not able to breach the defence again, in a display almost as effective as the mythological Trojans in defending their city.
So, the South African World Cup dream is over for another four years, the team will have a lot of questions to answer and plans to make, but the performance and result against Argentina could be the catalyst of belief that drives us to another level.