“This was not down to luck”, said Ireland captain Megan Frazer after her Green Army put in a gutsy, never-say-die performance that prompted Marsha Cox, the South Africa captain, to praise them for their teamwork and attitude. “All week they have just come out and played with such guts and heart that they deserve to win,” said Cox as Ireland defeated South Africa 2-1 in a hard-fought contest.
This was a match that saw the initiative bounce continuously between the two teams. Although the first-half finished 1-1, courtesy of goals from Celia Evans (8′) and Megan Frazer (16′), South Africa were definitely in the ascendancy, while in the early stages of the second half Ireland looked the more likely to take control.
Evan’s goal came after a lovely ball from captain Marsha Cox found its way through the Irish defence and Evans slotted it home. In response, Megan Frazer slammed the ball home from a penalty corner. The second Irish goal came from Nicola Evans (46′) after the South Africa defence simply seemed to have switched off for a second.
Celebrating her 100th cap was Ireland defender Emma Smyth, and from the performance she put in to keep the South Africa team from equalising, her importance to the team was evident. With the clock counting down, South Africa really piled on the pressure. A penalty corner struck an Irish defender on the foot, but Tarryn Bright’s penalty stroke was saved by Emma Gray. This is the second penalty stroke that South Africa have failed to convert against Ireland during the competition.
Celia Evans nearly scored her second but it hit the crossbar, before ricocheting back into play. The ensuing penalty corner was saved, but this was just one in a number of sallies into the Irish defence as the South Africa team continued to pile on the pressure.
After the game, Frazer paid tribute to her team: “Saying I am proud is an understatement. We have developed into more than a team, we are a family. We will get ready for the final tomorrow, but these are a busy few months for us, we have to do well in World League II because ultimately our long-term goal is to qualify for the Olympics.”
Photograph: The Hook (c)