With Milena Bertolini’s Italy needing just a point to progress to the round-of-sixteen if Sweden were able to beat Argentina in the concurrent game, confidence was high ahead of this final Group G fixture in Wellington.
RSA: Swart; Dhlamini, Matlou, Mbane, Ramalepe; Gamede, Moodaly; Seoposenwe, Motlhalo, Magaia; Kgatlana
ITA: Durante; Boattin, Linari, Orsi, Di Guglielmo; Giugliano, Caruso; Bonanza, Dragoni, Beccari; Giacinti
Italy’s wait for their opening goal lasted just eleven minutes in Wellington, with le Azzurre being awarded a chance to take the lead from the penalty spot early on. Dhlamini crashed clumsily into Beccari inside the area, with the referee quick to award the Italians a penalty. Arianna Caruso stepped up to strike, rolling a cool effort into the bottom left corner to put her nation on course for progression.
The Banyana Banyana sought to respond instantly through Kgatlana, who attempted a rather spectacular strike from the edge of the box. Despite having Durante beaten, the South African’s effort sailed wide of the post – and their search for an equaliser would continue a little while longer.
Their search almost proved fruitious ten minutes later, as Dhalmini’s delivery from the left flank found Motlhalo inside the area. She selflessly laid the ball off to Moodaly, but her first-time effort struck the woodwork as Durante – and the rest of the Italian defence – breathe a sigh of relief.
But the Banyana Banyana were finally able to equalise just after the half-hour mark, after an unforgivable mistake from Orsi. With Linari having won back possession, she looked to lay the ball off to her defensive teammate – who attempted a no-look backpass to her goalkeeper, but Durante simply wasn’t expecting it and could only watch as the ball trickled over the line.
Italy looked to restore their advantage almost immediately through a corner, as Beccari’s headed effort struck the woodwork before rebounding back into the box. A moment of sheer chaos turned the penalty area turned into somewhat of a pinball machine, though the Banyana Banyana were eventually able to clear the danger.
The South Korean defences were under pressure once more before the half-time interval, as Italy’s right flank looked to create a golden opportunity for le Azzurre – but having received Beccari’s pass, Giacinti was only able to direct her effort from the edge of the box straight into the arms of Swart.
The Italian pressure continued after the break, with Dragoni sending Giacinti through one-on-one with the ‘keeper. The forward opted to shoot despite the tight angle, allowing Swart to smother her strike and deny le Azzurre the lead they were so desperate to reclaim.
But as the hour mark approached, South Africa seemed to find their groove once again. Seoposenwe’s through ball picked out Kgatlana perfectly, with the strike jinking through the Italian defence – but her effort was driven into the side netting.
Kgatlana was involved in yet another attacking move just moments later as she teed up Magaia, who whipped a deadly ball into the box. Linari was able to clear it behind for a corner, which failed to come to fruition for the Banyana Banyana.
In the 67th minute, the South Africans found their long-awaited second goal of the match. Having scored that disastrous first-half own goal, Orsi was at fault once again as Dhalmani latched on to her loose pass to send Kgatlana through on goal. Selflessly, she rolled the ball back to Magaia – and she made no mistake, lifting a superb effort over Durante to put the Banyana Banyana on course for a spot in the round-of-sixteen.
But just as South Africa looked to establish their grasp on the game, Caruso found her second goal to bring Italy level. An Italian corner saw Girelli arrive at the near post to glance a ball across the face of goal, with Caruso’s hip deflecting the ball over the line. A lengthy VAR check ensued, but the goal was found to stand!
Just minutes into stoppage time, South Africa were able to restore their lead as Kgatlana powered home. Magaia danced past a flurry of challenges to dart into the box, ultimately squaring for her attacking teammate – but the striker made no mistake, picking out the back of the net with excellent precision to once again put Banyana Banyana on course for victory.
Sweden’s win over Argentina, coupled with this result in Wellington, ensure that the Banyana Banyana join the Blågult in the round-of-sixten. South Africa will face the Netherlands on August 6, with kickoff at 3am UK time.