Australia book World Cup final spot - but nearly pay for decision to rest four key players against South Africa

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Australia narrowly edged past South Africa to reach the final - Getty Images Europe
Australia narrowly edged past South Africa to reach the final - Getty Images Europe

Australia 55 South Africa 53

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Australia survived a breathtaking display of arrogance to edge past South Africa by just two goals and into the World Cup final, despite resting four of their most influential players.

The reigning champions were almost made to pay for their decision to hand their squad players game time on the biggest stage as South Africa – playing in their first World Cup semi-final for 24 years – closed to within one goal with four minutes remaining. The eventual victory margin was just two.

Only three of the team that had started Australia’s victory against New Zealand retained their spot on Saturday, with captain Caitlin Bassett unused for the entire game. Goal keeper Courtney Bruce, who had been player of the match against the Kiwis, was only thrown on for the last quarter.

Despite Australia coach Lisa Alexander insisting she selected the players who “matched up best” with their semi-final opponents, there were some unimpressed figures in the South Africa camp.

“It wasn’t a walk in the park [for Australia],” said Norma Plummer, South Africa head coach. “They were very lucky to get out of it because we had the opportunity in the last bit when one goal down.”

<span>Australia's Caitlin Thwaites and South Africa's Phumza Maweni battle for the ball </span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Australia's Caitlin Thwaites and South Africa's Phumza Maweni battle for the ball  Credit: PA

Asked if Australia had underestimated them, goal shooter Lenize Potgieter said: “I definitely think so. I think we are the underdogs, but then it is nice to see they started to put out their starting line-up in the second half and we beat them in that half.”

Australia looked to have got away with their unexpected squad rotation when Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett shot with 100 per cent accuracy to help build an eight-goal half-time lead.

Neither player would miss for the entire match, but South Africa soon hit back after the break, winning both of the final quarters and coming within two goals of what would have been an historic comeback.

As it is, South Africa have still never beaten Australia in 39 matches and the 11-time champions have maintained their perfect record of featuring in every World Cup final.

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