SA give Black Sticks a game to remember
South Africa were out to make a positive statement against New Zealand in the Four Nations test match at Club zur Vahr in Bremen, Germany, on Saturday and this they did, despite going down 1-0.
The sun finally broke through but it did not shine on SA despite 15 shots on goal and four penalty corners to New Zealand’s 11 and four respectively. The ability to create space in the strike zone by manipulating the defence was crucial and this SA did better than the Black Sticks, who are sixth in the world to SA’s 12.
The outcome was also down to whether SA could discount the threat of the Kiwis’ ability to build around the right, which they generally did.
Kiwi goalkeeper Sally Rutherford made a series of saves, as did SA keeper Mariette Rix in a game chock-full of passion and excitement in keeping with the countries’ long-standing sporting rivalry but Samantha Harrison’s field goal from a Black Sticks breakout against the run of play was the game breaker, the Kiwis’ first shot on goal after 20 minutes, by which time SA had had six.
Indeed, had one of Kathleen Taylor, Kate Woods, world record holder Pietie Coetzee (now 242 goals in 248 tests), Sulette Damons or Dirkie Chamberlain (twice) got on the scoresheet in the first 20 the outcome might have been different.
An on-song Illse Davids, quite outstanding, as well as Lenise Marais, Lesle-Ann George and Woods made vital tackles and intercepts while captain Marsha Marescia was inspirational in midfield and fleet-footed left-side midfielder Shelley Russell burnt her markers on too many occasions to mention.
SA were unlucky not to earn two more penalty corners and were on the receiving end of a couple of disputed PCs but the Black Sticks can also count themselves unfortunate that efforts from Harrison and Katie Glynn went over rather than under the crossbar.
All the South Africans upped their game significantly and it was an encouraging return for double Olympian and Athens 2004 joint-leading goalscorer Jen Wilson, the forward who returned after careful management of a quad injury.
The Kiwis’ ability to dominate the nine-yard area through exploiting attacks along the baseline aided by overlapping wing halves, and the utilisation of the full width and length of the field with very fast, physical players, was largely nullified, as SA’s organisational ability in defence improved markedly in this match.
SA have a hugely experienced midfield with a collective 820 test caps between Marescia, Tarryn Bright, George and Russell. Indeed, SA are a massively experienced team with 3 300 caps to the Black Sticks’ 1 580. The London 2012 Pool B encounter in 17 days’ time is one to relish.
Earlier, world number 16 Belgium pulled off a sensational 1-0 win over world No 3 Germany with Erica Coppey’s last-minute looped goal over keeper Kristina Reynolds from inside the six-yard box the difference in an action-packed clash played in driving rain.
The result leaves Germany with three points and a goal difference of three (5-1 defeat of SA Thursday) and Belgium on three points and a GD of minus one. New Zealand are on 6 points with a GD of three (4-2 win over Belgium Thursday) while SA are on zero with a GD of minus five.
The South Africans face the Belgians on Sunday while Germany bring the curtain down on this round-robin tournament when they tackle the Kiwis. With final placings still in the balance, it points to an intriguing outcome.