New Delhi: Indian eves suffered their first defeat in the tournament when they went down fighting to top-ranked South Africa 2-5 in their fourth encounter of the women's qualifiers for the London Olympics, at the Dhyan Chand Stadium, here on Wednesday.
South Africa clearly looked a better team, showing better co-ordination as they released the ball quickly and their defenders didn't give the Indians much space to operate.
The highest ranked team in the tournament, the visitors scored through Dirkie Chamberlain (12th minute, 32nd, 58th) and Sulette Damons (53rd, 67th), while for India skipper Asunta Lakra (23rd) and Soundarya Yendala (52nd) reduced the margin.
South Africa played a very fast-paced game and attacked the Indian citadel and kept the ball in their half for most part of the match. However, it was India who earned the first chance to score when they earned a penalty corner as early as in the 3rd minute but they failed to take advantage.
Immediately, South Africa, on a counter-attack, earned their first PC but they too failed to make use of the chance.
Unperturbed the Proteans kept pressing for a goal and earned another PC in the ninth minute but once again, they returned empty handed in front of an alert Indian defence.
Dirkie Chamberlain finally put South Africa in the lead when she scored from close range after their first penalty corner strike from Kate Woods was blocked by the Indian goalie, Savita.
Eleven minutes later, India earned their second penalty corner which culminated into another PC and this time skipper Asunta Lakra didn't make any mistake and scored on a direct hit as the defenders were found napping.
However, Dirkie once again found the back of the net in the 32nd minute when she slotted home on a rebound after Shelley Russell's hit was stopped by Savita to help South Africa keep their nose ahead 2-1 going into the break.
In the second half, there was plenty of action at both camps with India earning another short corner in the 37th minute but the hosts failed to convert it. Another opportunity went abegging when Rani's powerful hit got deflected off the horizontal.
In the 47th minute, India earned yet another penalty corner and almost got the equaliser. It was finally Soundarya who brought India on the level terms, nudging home from close range after India tried out a variation in another penalty corner at the 52nd minute.
However, South Africa was prompt to hit back with Sulette Damons finding the cage with a reverse hit. The visitors made it 4-2 in the 58th minute with Dirkie completing a hat-trick.
South Africa clearly looked the fitter team as they kept looking for more goals and made it 5-2 in the 67th minute when Damons easily scored after getting a pass from Kathleen Taylor as the Indian defence was found napping once again.
With time running out of their hands, India tried to narrow down the margin and made a few shies at the rival post but none of them materialised and they succumbed to their first defeat in the tournament.