Phumelela Mbande's brilliance can't deny SA Hockey Women going down to Ireland
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CAPE TOWN – South Africa's Olympic flagbearer Phumelela Mbande put in a superb display in goal on Saturday evening in Tokyo, but could not save her team from a 2-0 defeat to Ireland.
The Irish were intent to show that their shock appearance in the 2018 World Cup Final was no fluke as they delivered a convincing performance on their Olympic debut.
A lively start resulted in super-swift break via Chloe Watkins and Deidre Duke with the ball flashing across the face of the goal, but fortunately for the South Africans it was just beyond the reach of Ireland forward Anna O'Flanagan.
Ireland continued their dominance in the first quarter and it eventually reaped dividends when Róisín Upton slammed home her 17th international goal to put her team 1-0 ahead.
It was pretty much one way traffic from thereon with South Africa remaining to sit pretty deep in defence. This allowed Ireland to create further opportunities when Sarah Torrans almost capitalized on an excellent run and pass by captain Kathryn Mullan.
The miss was could have proven costly though when South Africa had their best chance of the match shortly afterwards. Nicole Walraven, whose mother represented Zimbabwe at the 1980 Olympic Games, had a golden chance to level up the game shortly before the end of the third quarter, but the midfielder failed to take an advantage of an open goal after South Africa had won their first short corner.
Torrans, though, made up for her earlier miss when she slotted home in the 44th minute to give Ireland an unassailable advantage.
The Irish were the dominant team for the remainder of the encounter and could easily have extended their lead were it not for Mbande's brilliance in goal, in particularly a reflex stick save off Hannah Matthews' deflection.
South Africa's next match is against defending Olympic champions Great Britain on Monday (11:30am SA time).