South Africa have a real chance of reaching Saturday's SPAR CUP final after they beat a India 4-1 at Queensmead Hockey Stadium in Durban on Wednesday.
Earlier, Australia's world number five Hockeyroos drew 2-2 with Argentina in a pulsating clash.
With log-leaders Argentina down to meet fourth-placed India at 2 pm Friday (Thursday is a rest day) in their last round-robin match, celebrated captain Lucian Aymar's team are almost certain finalists on Saturday, barring a major upset. That leaves South Africa and the Hockeyroos playing for the other final berth. SA must beat the Aussies, as a draw will not suffice, the girls from Down Under enjoying a goal difference advantage of one.
'We need a win against Australia to reach the final,' said South African coach Jenny King. 'With our speedy strikers, our ability on the counter-attack will be vital in exposing the holes in the Hockeyroos' defense.'
Indeed, the Aussies were 2-0 up against Argentina before the team ranked second behind world number ones the Netherlands came back with a vengeance. The skilful Argentineans, led by the incomparable four-time World Player of the Year Aymar, were able to exploit the space given them in midfield to run with success at the Hockeyroos, netting two goals in six minutes.
King said she was pleased with the performance of her younger, more inexperienced players.
'Loreen Irvine is holding her own at this level, Jade Mayne is looking good, although we need to work on her defensive skills, and Roxy Turner was powerful going through the middle. It is nice to see the youngsters putting their hands up.'
Following a 3-0 half-time lead and 4-0 up 10 minutes after the break, King was unhappy at the manner in which South Africa lost focus in the last 25 minutes.
'India came back really hard and we were going forward too quickly,' she said.
SA co-captain Marsha Marescia, who now shares the job with goalkeeper Mariette Rix, said the team lost their shape in the second half, although she pointed out that the Indians must also be given credit for the manner in which they turned the game around after trailing 4-0 with a massive 25 minutes to go.
The Indians, who scored their goal after a penalty corner, were inspired by the hard running and skilful play of Rijuta Mullick, Vartika Singh and Captain Surinder Kaur.
Three of the SPAR SA goals came from set-pieces, the alert Vida Ryan pouncing twice through a first-timer after a rebound off goalkeeper Puna Savita's pads and a sublime deflection goal, her twin sister Vidette also netting from a neat deflection in between.
For the fourth, Kate Woods (nee Hector) rifled the perfect flick into the top-left corner - Argentine umpire Irene Presenqui having no hesitation in awarding a penalty stroke after the exceptionally skilled Kathleen Taylor was brought down in the circle.
Australia – Argentina 2-2 (2-2)
Goals Australia: Casey Eastham, Kate Hollywood
Goals Argentina Daniela Sruoga, Carla Rebecchi
South Africa – India 4-1 (1-0)
Goals South Africa Vida Ryan 2, Vidette Ryan, Kate Woods (nee Hector)
Goal India: Ritu Rani
1. Argentina 2-4 (5-3)
1. Australia 2-4 (5-3)
3. South Africa 2-3 (5-4)
4. India 2-0 (2-7)
Source: BLD / SAHA