Wales Women 2 South Africa 2
Skipper Leah Wilkinson bagged a well-deserved equaliser as Wales opened their FIH Series Finals campaign in Valencia with a draw against higher ranked South Africa – and they came so close to a famous win.
Coach Kevin Johnson’s side went into the game ranked 27 in the world and were without Sarah Jones who is on GB duty in the Pro-league series.
And they were up against opponents ranked 12 places higher than them and who triumphed 2-0 when the teams met at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast last year.
But Wales struck the opening goal through Sian French and despite going behind in the searing Spanish heat ensured they got the draw in the final quarter.
Wales face Thailand, ranked one place below them at 28 in the world on Thursday, before their final group match against World No 17 side Italy on Saturday.
Vice-captain French gave Wales the lead in the 19th minute when she netted from a penalty corner after good work from Hannah Cozens and Natasha Marke-Jones.
But pressure at the start of the second half finally saw South Africa level as Lilian du Plessis struck on 33 minutes.
And eight minutes later the higher ranked side took the lead when Quanita Bobbs scored from another penalty corner.
Wales refused to wilt in the heat and started the final quarter strongly going close to an equaliser before winning a series of penalty corners.
And the pressure deservedly paid off on 49 minutes when skipper Wilkinson – extending her cap record to 160 – fired home with a low shot.
Sophie Robinson and Izzy Webb were both close to putting Wales ahead and earning them a famous victory in the Pool B encounter but the draw is a great result to start the campaign with the European Championships later in the summer.
Italy thrashed Thailand 7-0 in the other match in the group.
Wales squad: Beth Bingham (Holcombe Hockey Club), Caro Hulme (Beeston Hockey Club),
Danni Jordan (Royal Leopold Club), Ella Jackson (GK) (Buckingham Hockey Club), Eloise Laity (Buckingham), Emily Rowlands (Hampstead and Westminster), Hannah Cozens (Loughborough Students Hockey Club),
Izzie Howell (Durham University), Izzy Webb (Swansea Hockey Club)
Jo Westwood (Holcombe), Julie Whiting (Bowdon Hockey Club),
Leah Wilkinson (c) (Holcombe), Natasha Marke-Jones (Clifton Robinsons Hockey Club), Phoebe Richards (Buckingham),
Rose Thomas (GK) (Holcombe), Sian French (vc) (Bowdon), Sophie Robinson (Beeston),
Xenna Hughes (East Grinstead Hockey Club).
*Sarah Jones is ineligible as she is representing GB in the Pro-league.
Remaining Games: Thursday 20th June vs Thailand – 4:00pm BST
Saturday 22nd June vs Italy – 12:00pm BST