South Africa went down 1-0 to Germany in their Hockey World League women’s quarterfinal at the Wits Astro on Tuesday night.
It was a game marred by the officials’ tolerance of the Germans’ over-robust play and their bumbling use of the video referral system.
After an evenly-contested first quarter, in which there were chances at both ends but SA goalkeeper Nicole la Fleur’s double-save at a short-corner was a highlight, the home side launched a promising attack which led to a short-corner as Sulette Damons’ good cross was met by Jade Mayne, whose reverse-sticks shot was saved but not without a penalty corner being conceded.
Bernie Coston was then barged over as she went for the deflection from the set-piece, an infringement missed by New Zealand umpire Kelly Hudson.
But South Africa called for the video referral and Russian TV umpire Elena Eskina agreed that there had been an off-the-ball body tackle, but called for a card and a short-corner.
Ordinarily, a card would be given for a deliberate offence and, being in the circle, that should lead to a penalty stroke.
Umpire Hudson then awarded the short-corner but did not issue the card, leading to confusion all round.
“We asked about the card and what the video umpire said, but the umpire just waved us away and said we must play on,” South Africa captain Nicolene Terblanche said afterwards.
The Germans were also extremely physical, often shouldering South African players off the ball.
But the home side maintained their composure exceptionally well and certainly ensured the world’s seventh-ranked side were in a fierce contest.
“Germany are always physical and they won a lot of 50/50 balls, which are about who fights hardest. But we were very composed and stuck to our guns, I was very happy with how we reacted. We had control of the game in general and had enough chances to get a win out of it, but we just couldn’t turn them into goals,” South Africa coach Sheldon Rostron said.
Germany brought their typical measured, controlled approach to the game, but South Africa more than held their own as they too played mature, impressive hockey.
Their build-up work was at times brilliant, but sadly the finishing touches were lacking.
With two minutes to go to halftime, Camille Nobis received the ball close to goal, swivelled and easily took La Fleur out of the game before flipping the ball into the empty goal to give Germany their 1-0 lead.
South Africa had more than enough chances to equalise, starting with one just a minute later when German goalkeeper Julia Ciupka dived to keep out the impressive Ilse Davids’ reverse-sticks shot.
In the 41st minute, Damons just had the goalkeeper to beat, but lost control of the ball and was tackled by Ciupka.
The best chance of all fell to Candice Manuel, the heroine of the thrilling win over the USA that put South Africa into the quarterfinals.
Davids intercepted the ball in the German defence and passed to Manuel, who flicked over the advancing goalkeeper only to see the ball bounce wide of the open goal.
The home side will now chase fifth spot and automatic qualification for the World Cup in London next year, with the gutsy Irish side the first hurdle to get over in that regard.
The match will be played on Thursday, before the semi-finals between Germany and Argentina, and England and the United States.