Candice Manuel – SA Hockey’s Newest Hero

The South African Womens Hockey side entered into the final group game at the FIH World League Semi-Final against the highly favoured Americans knowing that they needed a victory. The Americans had already secured their place in the knock out stages and were strongly favoured to knock out the hosts, who had lost to Chile earlier in the tournament.

The game progressed like a knock out game with both teams playing with increased intensity, Melissa Gonzalez cracked home a brilliant backhand effort to give USA the lead in the 14th minute before Jade Mayne pulled the home side level ahead of half time. Jill Witmer edged the Americans ahead just before the third quarter break.

South Africa were in desperate need of a hero and they found one in the diminutive superstar Candice Manuel. The effervescent striker had set up South Africa’s goal against Argentina with some hurried work in defense and was again a bright spark for the SA side.

She finished an equaliser in the 49th minute. Lisa Deetlefs had driven a ball through and a deflection off the american defender seemed innocent enough, but the brilliant Bernadette Coston refused to give up, picked the ball up on the base line and crossed for Manuel to deflect into the far corner. South Africa were level but still needed a goal to qualify.

That goal would come when regular captain, Nicolene Terblanche, who was having her game of the tournament, pulled off an intercept on the half way line and played the perfect ball through to Manuel. The striker still had lots to do and somehow managed to rifle her reverse stick shot past USA keeper Jackie Briggs. The goal sent the 2000 fans in attendance into delirium as SA had put a fut into the knock out stages.

The SA ladies would hold out for a famous victory that was celebrated all around the country, thanks to the coverage by Supersport, on a great sporting day for South Africa. There were incredible performances by Shelley Jones, Celia Evans, Quanita Bobbs, Jade Mayne and the rest of the ladies, while skipper on the day Sulette Damons led from the front. But ultimately South Africa needed a hero and that hero was Candice Manuel. Dynamite most definitely comes in small packages!

South Africa now take on Germany on Tuesday night at 18:00. The winner of this game will qualify for the FIH Hockey World Cup and a place in the FIH World League Final in New Zealand later this year.  With Candice Manuel there, there could be no stopping the South Africans!

All images are courtesy of Marcel Sigg from Run Ride Dive. Check out his FIH World Hockey League gallery here

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