Netherland's Claire Verhage challenges with South Africa's Marsha Mareescia in the first semi final of the Investec London Cup at the Quintin Hogg Memorial Ground, Chiswick, west London, 9th June 2012.

The South Africa women's hockey team came agonisingly close to upsetting Olympic Games champions Holland for the first time in history but went down 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the scores were 2-2 at full-time in the semi-finals of the Investec London Cup in Chiswick, west London on Saturday.

The nearest SA have come to beating the world hockey giants was a 5-5 draw in 2004.

Two brilliant strikes by world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee, which took her tally to 240 goals in 244 Test matches, brought SA so close after a slow start, and a pivotal moment was a stunning stick save low to her right by Holland goalkeeper Floortje Engels following a Coetzee rocket drag-flick in the 47th minute.

SA started very slowly and Holland's mean machine clicked into gear with two goals in the first 12 minutes, their centre midfielder Naomi van As carving holes through the middle of the pitch and being aided by the world number one team's ability to stretch the SA defence with telling attacks down the left and right wings.

In the third minute Kelly Jonker displayed admirable composure to nail the opening goal into the backboard before Holland captain and ace drag-flicker Maartje Paumen roofed her team's first penalty corner into the top of the net in the 12th minute.

With SA captain Marsha Marescia having a superb game, the girls in green and gold rallied and Coetzee weaved her way across the top of the Dutch defensive third before hitting a reverse-stick shot into the far corner three minutes from half-time.

Coetzee made it 2-2 with 15 minutes left in the match after Tarryn Bright had earned a PC and the superstar's drag-flick went whizzing past Engels in goal.

South Africa's ability to get a string of passes together made all the difference and the pressure told as several players on both sides were condemned to the sin-bin by the umpires.

The teams matched each other in the first two rounds of the penalty shootout, which entails an attacker having eight seconds to score in a one-on-one against the goalkeeper, but Holland edged ahead to win the best-of-five shootout 4-2 with one round left.

The second semi-final between world number two germnay and world seven Australia is due to start at 6 pm SA time.

The bronze medal match between SA and either Germany or Australia will be live on SuperSport 6 at 2.15 pm SA time on Sunday with the gold medal match at 5 pm SA time on the same channel. – Supplied