This was a huge game, and in more ways than one, for Sean Dancer’s Irish side.
A first ever appearance for the senior women at the Olympic Games, the excitement and determination among the players was evident with a booming rendition of Amhran na bhFiann that was matched, to be fair, by their opponents when their turn came.
Ireland had no time or latitude for nerves or a slow start. South Africa are ranked 16th in the world and are, on that basis, the rank outsiders of the six teams in Pool A. With far tougher assignments ahead, Ireland simply had to win here to make the last eight.
They had the better of the possession and territory from early on and they capitalised on it with the first penalty corner of the game, Hannah Matthews setting Roisin Upton up for the sweetest of strikes, low and powerful and into the corner.
It was a fitting marker.
It was Upton who scored the defining goal in the memorable shootout against Canada that finally booked this team’s passage to Tokyo back in November of 2019 and the advantage was doubled towards the end of the third quarter by Sarah Torrans.
Matthews was again involved and when her drive into the danger area was deflected into the air it was the 22-year old student nurse from Knocklyon who grabbed the opportunity by launching an overhead smash into the rigging.
They could have claimed more than the two but this was hardly a night for quibbles.
Dancer was thrilled with the result as his side got the win in what could have turned into a tricky evening in Japan.
"We are delighted to get the win obviously. It is a very special time for us, our first ever game at the Olympics and the three points was certainly what we needed to do," he said.
“It’s a mature group. They understand what they need to do. Certainly, the environment that we had set up over the last couple of days was to enjoy being here and doing things and certainly I knew there would be a lot of emotions and excitement over the first game so the message was to relax and enjoy it and get out there and I think we saw that as a team tonight.”
Content with the 2-0 win Ireland could have added another few goals but go into their next outing with momentum behind them.
“Certainly a third or fourth would have been nice to finish things off but, as you said, there was a little bit of stress around getting that next goal," Dancer confessed.
"At 1-0 South Africa were very much in the game and when we went 2-0 it was very good. The last quarter we probably gave ourselves a few headaches. Had it gone to 3-0 it might have been a fairer reflection of where we should have been and the game would have probably been dead from there. South Africa kept fighting and we knew we had to keep playing.”
It's Holland up next for the Irish in a repeat of the 2018 World Championship final, where the Dutch ran out convincing winners. But the calibre of opposition is not the only challenge for Dancer's side
“The first difficult thing about the next game is the time change. A 9.15pm start tonight so within 48 hours we are playing in a ten o’clock (in the morning) game, so just getting our body clocks right and we actually practiced and simulated that a couple of times, just to see what worked for us around preparation in the day and all that type of stuff. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is you are playing the world number one. No doubt at all that they are the best team in the world so we are going to go out there and give it our best and try to improve on our performance from the Europeans.
"That’s why we’re here. We’re here to play against the best teams in the world so for us that’s the exciting part and the challenge.”
A McFerran (GK), R Upton, E Tice, S McAuley, C Watkins, H McLoughlin, K Mullan, S Hawkshaw, S Torrans, D Duke, A O’Flanagan.
H Matthews, N Daly, C McCay, N Carroll.
P Mbande (GK), C Seerane, N Walraven, M Deetlefs, E Hunter, K Paton, , R Johnson, O Bobbs, O Zulu, L du Pliess, T Glasby.
E Molikoe, T Mallett, N Veto, C Maddocks, L Mahole.
K Hudson (NZ), E Yamada (Japan).