Helped by two penalties decisions, one of which was given via VAR, Spain overturn a 1-0 deficit to beat South Africa 3-1 at the Stade Oceana in Le Havre.
In the opening 20 minutes, Spain looked liked they were going to canter to a win. They were doing all of the pressing and they were passing well, the only problem was they could not create any clear cut chances. Just about the two best chances they had in that period were a long distance effort from Mariona Caldentey before Maria Leon struck a free-kick just over the bar.
The longer the score stayed 0-0, the more South Africa grew in confidence. The lightning fast counter-attacks were proving to be a real challenge for the Spanish side. South Africa won a free-kick of their own just on the edge of the box, skipper Janine van Wyk and full-back Nothando Vilakazi stood over. Eventually, the full-back would be the one to hit it and she wasn’t far away either as her effort took a slight deflection off the top of the wall and went just over.
In the 25th minute, the 23-year-old starlet Thembi Kgatlana lit up the match with a moment of pure brilliance. About 25 yards from goal, she smashed an absolute stunning effort toward the far post. Sandra Panos scrambled across her goal and credit to her, she got a touch, but not enough to stop Kgatlana bagging the goal of the tournament so far. After that point, Spain kept on pressing but they just could not find a way through a surprisingly resolute South African back-line.
Spain get the rub of the green
In the second half, South Africa failed to really make much of an impact in an attacking sense. This half was all about Jenni Hermoso, Spain and VAR. 69 minutes in, the referee pointed to the spot and awarded a penalty to Spain after Janine van Wyk blocked a Hermoso shot with a raised arm. Hermoso stepped up to the spot and calmly slotted her pen past the keeper.
Then, ten minutes later, chaos ensued as the referee stopped play to run over to the side of the pitch and check an incident from more than a minute earlier. The incident was a clearance from Vilakaze, but she followed through and seemingly kicked the gut of Lucia Garcia. After a lengthy delay, the referee pointed to the spot and brandished a second yellow card to Vilakaze. Jenni Hermoso once again stepped up and comfortably dispatched her pen. All of a sudden, South Africa were a goal down AND a player down.
In the 89th minute, Spain wrapped the game up through substitute Lucia Garcia. With classic route one football, the ball was played through the middle and she calmly nipped past the goalkeeper and slotted the ball into an empty net… 3-1, game over.
After a spirited display, the game really fell apart for South Africa in the last 15 minutes of the game. Desiree Ellis and her team can take heart from a performance that showed a lot of fighting spirit, dogged determination and devastating counter-attacking pace.
Spain, on the other hand, have some studying to do. They may have won the game comfortably in the end, but they struggled a lot for the opening hour of the game. Jorge Vilda and his team will have to buck their ideas up when they come up against China and Germany, both of whom are much stronger opposition than what they faced today.