South Africa book spot in knockout stage with last-gasp win over Italy
WELLINGTON – South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said her players “fought like warriors” as they clinched their first-ever Women’s World Cup win on Wednesday to also progress to the last 16 of the tournament.
Thembi Kgatlana scored a last-gasp winner in Wellington to give the South Africans a 3-2 victory over Italy in Group G that sent them through to the next round at the expense of their opponents.
The striker struck two minutes into stoppage time to set up a clash with the Netherlands in Sydney on Sunday and broke the hearts of the Italians, who had needed only a draw to progress.
Italy had appeared to salvage the draw they needed when Arianna Caruso scored from a corner in the 74th minute but were left to rue what could have been after a series of late missed chances.
“They fought like warriors,” said an emotional Ellis, a founding member of the South Africa women’s side in 1993.
“They fought like the heroines that we know that they are. They fought to be historically remembered and they’ve made history not just getting our first win, but going to the round of 16 and that is freaking amazing.
“I said we were going to fight for every ball, we’re not going to give up...This victory is for everyone back home, people that got up in the early hours of the morning to support us – that is for them.”
The Italians had opened the scoring in the 10th minute when Caruso converted a penalty.
South Africa equalised in the 32nd minute through an own goal from Benedetta Orsi.
Banyana Banyana then went ahead for the first time in the 67th minute when Kgatlana’s neat inside pass found Hildah Magaia free behind the defensive line and the forward swept it into the net.
Caruso grabbed her second of the match seven minutes later from a corner when the ball caught her hip in a goalmouth scramble and cannoned into the bottom right corner.
It looked as though Italy might hang on for the draw in a frantic finale but Magaia’s pass found Kgatlana in the box and the striker smashed the ball into the net to secure second place in the group behind Sweden.
The Swedes, meanwhile, set up a last-16 showdown with the United States after a Rebecka Blomqvist header and an Elin Rubensson penalty gave them a 2-0 win over Argentina.
Blomqvist headed home in the 66th minute in Hamilton and substitute Rubensson added a last-minute spot kick as Sweden made it three wins out of three to finish top of Group G.
“We had to have some patience,” Blomqvist said.
“Argentina defended well and closed off a lot of spaces. We felt at half-time that if we just continued doing what we were doing we’d break them down, and more space opened up towards the end.”
Sweden will next face holders United States in a blockbuster clash in Melbourne on Sunday – a rematch of the Olympic quarter-finals in 2021 when the Europeans won 3-0 en route to the final. - REUTERS, AFP