Johannesburg – A thrilling World League encounter at Hartleyvale Stadium in Cape Town on Thursday night between joint tournament favourites Belgium and the South Africa women’s hockey team went the way of the girls in green and gold 3-2 after Belgium led 2-1 at half-time.
In inspirational form, SA’s world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee reigned supreme with three sizzling penalty corners to take her tally to 253 in 256 Test matches.
Belgium scored through Stephanie de Groof and Heleen Delmee.
The victory leaves SA heavily favoured to win the tournament and qualify for the World League semi-finals in Europe in June. SA meet now meet Azerbaijan at 6 pm on Saturday before their final match against Austria at the same time on Sunday.
A composed SA started well, breaking down Belgium attacks early and launching counters, but cool defending by centre back Lenise Marais and a good save by outstanding SA goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa from Judith Vandermeiren gave an indication why the Belgians, 4-0 winners of the Test series the week before, could never be discounted.
Neat interplay between midfielder Tarryn Bright and Dirkie Chamberlain in the ninth minute brought the first penalty corner and Coetzee ballooned the back of the net with a superbly timed drag-flick past keeper Nadine Khouzam (1-0).
Belgian drew level in the 27th minute when Helene Delmee evaded Mangisa from close after intricate short-passing in a confined space between Alix Gerniers and captain Charlotte de Vos (1-1). Four minutes later, Belgium penalty corner star Stephanie de Groof celebrated her 100th Test match with a fine strike (2-1).
SA started the second-half with a bang and several close shaves turned into success in the 42nd minute when a Coetzee set-piece special bulged the back of the net to level the score at two goals apiece.
The match exploded into heart-in-mouth action in both strike zones for the duration and Nicolene Terblanche - in her 100th Test match – came across to deny Belgium in just one example of superb defensive covering in both strike zones.
The action intensified even further as SA piled on the pressure and Coetzee stepped up with a stunning penalty corner less than two minutes from the end to secure the match.
In the earlier match Austria beat Ghana 2-1.
Saturday’s matches:* Ghana vs Belgium 4 pm; SA vs Azerbaijan 6
Sunday: Belgium vs Azerbaijan 4 pm; SA vs Austria 6 pm. – Sapa