If you simply looked at the score, and said, "Ah -- doesn't look like a very exciting game." think again. This was one of the most exciting games we've seen so far (and it's game #9). Although South Africa lost, they turned 40,000 fans around and put on quite a display. I just can't wait to see them in the Olympics if they can still qualify or the next world cup. They are simply thrilling to watch.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Today's update really begins at 1:00 AM. We are in a lovely AirBNB in the middle of the city on the 55th floor or an 83 story building (amusingly right next to the Kimpton Margot; I do wish they'd learn to spell it correctly). At around 1:00, the fire alarm went off. As we wandered about shaking off the sleep and putting clothes on, the blaring noise changed from just noise to the message, "Get out! Emergency! Get out!" Now, I'm sure you all remember signs you've seen in every building that say, "In the event of a fire, do not use elevators." Yup, so there we were at 1:00 AM walking down 55+ flights of stairs (we got down to the ground floor and then seemed to have to down a few more flights and find our way through passages to actually exit the building). As we got out of the building, we saw the fire trucks and the firepeople were getting back into them saying, "It seemed to be contained to just that one unit." So, just about the time we got downstairs, the elevators turned on and we got in line to return to our unit. It seems that something had gone wrong on the 57th floor. In case you're wondering, 55 is a lot of flights of stairs. I'm rethinking this whole "sky people" existence.
Anyway, hours later we made our way to the stadium (along with 40,000 of our closest friends). Once again, we had seats high up on the side lines, about 25 yards out from the first half Dutch goal.
The crowd was heavily pro-Dutch and very orange. In fact, an early attempt from South Africa drew a small chorus of boos, which, as per usual, made me sad. The game opened with the Dutch driving to the South African goal for a bit and then South Africa responding with an intense drive and some dangerous play near the Dutch goal. Then the Dutch settled down, held possession and sent in a hard shot that the South African goalie deflected, but took her to the ground, and once that happened, the ball found its way to Jill Roord's head and into the goal. Nine minutes in and it was 1-0 The Netherlands!
The rest of the match showed a lot of Dutch possession and then thrilling counterattacks from South Africa. Their speed, ball control, and agilty was simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, like many other teams (i.e., the US and Canada), they were less successful converting those thrilling opportunities into goals. South African striker, Chrestinah Thembi Kgatlana danced around defenders, frequently fed from left back Karabo Angel Dhlamini and left midfielder Hildah Tholakele Magaia. The three of them were simply a joy to behold. By the 20 minute mark, this pro-Dutch crowd was standing, cheering, and screaming on many of the thrilling attacking forays. It was an incredibly joyful atmosphere. Well, except that these dazzling players were outsized by the Dutch and two starters needed substitutions (both in the first half) after hard tackles.
Pretty much every minute brought some thread from South Africa and we all assumed it was just a matter of time before we had a tie game. But alas, the teams go into halftime with the Dutch still up by one.
South Africa starts the second half looking even more determined. But, in an eerie similarity to the first half, at about nine minutes into the half Beerensteyn beats her player on the left, finds Pelova near goal, launches the ball to her, and she passes it on to Martens who takes a spinning shot. The South African goalie Swart initially blocks the shot, but it then bounces into the net. But wait! There is a VAR check...Pelova is ruled offsides and there is no goal!
I expected that the near miss on that goal would propel a South African counter that would tie the score, but between the incredible goalkeeping of the Netherlands' van Domselaar and the disciplined Dutch defense, it didn't happen. As in the first half, the Dutch control the game, but the South Africans (Bayana Banyana - what a great name) counterattack aggressively and look threatening repeatedly. And then, in the 68th minute, Roord finds Beerenstyn who sends a long, hard ball towards goal. It looks like Swart has it, but the ball somehow goes through her hands and it's Netherlands 2-0! (If you can view Foxsports you can see the goal here.)
The rest of the game continued much as the past -- Dutch possession; thrilling South African counter attack. But alas, the 2-0 score stood. I simply cannot wait to see South Africa play again. I hope they can qualify for the Olympics. If not, I'll definitely be looking for them in the next Women's World Cup!