The two strongest African Indoor Hockey sides took each other on in Swakopmund this weekend as both look to step up their preparations towards the 2018 FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup. There were some great games as the two sides continue to trade punches in each series they play against each other. The background for this series was set immensely well after South Africa won the previous series 3-1 in Durban (with one tie) and Namibia were unable to participate in the South African IPT after the quota of teams was filled. Namibia wanted to prove that they can be the continents best team, while South Africa wanted to prove that they are the undisputed number 1.
The South African squad featured a mix of experience and new caps as Isabella da Rocha, Nicole de Vries, Natasha Rootenburg and the dynamic Heather McEwan all received their first caps for the green and gold. The Namibians featured a largely young side, with PSi experience, including their own four debutants in Dure Boshoff (16 years old!), Sunell Ludwig (18 years old), Zaan Marie-Niemand and Lidia Simon. It would also be the first series to take place at the Dome in Swakopmund, a fantastic venue for indoor hockey.
The opening test match, South Africa laid siege on the Namibian goal but were kept out at every attack before finally debutant Heather McEwan and skipper Cindy Hack made it 2-0 at half-time. Namibia fought back in the second half with a goal through Fenesta Pienaar, but as the Namibians poured forward looking for an equaliser, Kelly Madsen, who has represented her nation in both indoor and outdoor hockey stole the show with a goal just three minutes from time. South Africa triumphing 3-1 and taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
The second test proved once again how tight these games can be when the first half ended 2-1 in the favour of the South Africans. Shelley Higgo and McEwan made it 2-0 when once again the SA ladies allowed Namibia back in the game when Maggie Mengo scored a superb solo goal. Nambia once again started the second half strongly but a staunch SA defence held them at bay before Cindy Hack netted on a counter for the 3-1 lead and shortly thereafter a 4-1 lead. With Hanli Hattingh denying everything the Namibians could muster, Hack then went up the other end and made it 5-1. Marcia Venter would score a late consolation goal but SA would take a 2-0 lead in the series thanks to the 5-2 result.
The third test of the series produced one of the better matches of the series as Namibia woke up on Saturday knowing a defeat would end their chances of a series victory. The two sides had drawn 0-0 in Durban earlier this year and at half-time that very uncommon scoreline in Indoor Hockey had repeated itself. Once again Heather McEwan was at hand to give SA the lead, before Hack and Madsen both scored to set SA on the way to victory. The incredibly feisty encounter had a consolation goal for Namibia through Venter but South Africa had won the battle and the war by clinching the series with two games to go.
The dead rubber matches were anything but, as the physicality of the battles intensified and Cindy Hack, SA’s inspirational captain, suffered an injury that would rule her out of the remaining test. Namibia for the first time in the series started with the intensity and ruthlessness many had expected but had not materialised. They almost seemed liberated by the pressure being off. Dunelle van Taak took the first goal before Southern Gauteng stopper Petro Stoffberg kept the SA ladies at bay and Namibia sent the crowd into raptures when Marcia Venter made it 2-0. Cindy Hack scored to bring SA back into the game, but suffered an injury that ended her involvement. Her team appeared galvanised to get one back for the skipper and levelled through Madsen. But as has been the case before Marcia Venter popped up with an incredible solo goal to seal just Namibia’s fourth ever win against SA (2 in Namibia, 2 in SA). 3-2 the final score.
And so to Sunday as the bruised bodies took to the courts for the final game of the series. Once again the first half produced very few goals as the teams felt each other out. Once again the team that scored first ended up winning the game. Dunelle van Taak with the only goal in the first half gave Namibia a 1-0 lead, but Heather McEwan popped up to cancel that lead just 5 minutes into the second half. Petro Stoffberg was in inspired form, and few will argue of her importance to Namibia in the African Qualifiers next year, as she batted out chance after chance for a tired South African side. Nambia then put the game to bed with three quick goals through van Taak and a brace for the brilliant Marcia Venter. The final score of 4-1 was Namibia’s biggest victory against South Africa and marked their best series performance by winning two games. Cindy Hack was named the Player of the Series.
All in all it was another great series of Indoor Hockey between Africa’s best with both sides having some great positives from the series and some big things to think about. I can’t wait to see the next game between these two quality sides.
This article was originally written for Tayla Sportswear and published on their website and Facebook pages. All images are courtesy of “The Namibian” or the South African Womens Indoor Hockey side Facebook page.