The last of their Pool A matches, the SA goals came from Tarryn Bright in the 14th minute, Dirkie Chamberlain in the 35th and Illse Davids in the 54th while India scored through Jaspreet Kaur in the 34th and Rani Rampal in the 60th.
Captain Marsha Cox’s girls will now play Pool B winners Australia at 15:20 (SA time) on Friday in the second of the semi-finals.
SA started with a bang, putting India under enormous pressure with their high-tempo approach, Bright and an on-fire Shelley Russell getting in goalshots, but India indicated their danger following a remarkable Jaspreet Kaur aerial.
In her 200th Test at just 26, SA centre back Lisa Deetlefs stepped up for the match’s first penalty corner in the 14th minute and the primary target slapped her pass back to corner injector Bright who swept the ball hard into the backboard (1-0).
Midway through the half, more impressive SA build-up saw striker Jade Mayne get in two snap shots in as many minutes, lively goalkeeper Savita Punia up for the challenge, while at the other end world-class striker Rampal won India’s opening PC but first-wave defender Bernie Coston’s extreme pace ran down the threat easily, comfortably blocking the drag-flick.
There was drama in the 26th when first-wave runner Sulette Damons was pole-axed by a thunderbolt from India’s second PC, this when India were down to nine players, and the blow to her leg meant South Africa’s pacy striker had to be helped off.
SA had a second PC before excellent work from Lenise Marais stopped India at a set-piece opportunity shortly after, but in the 34th minute clever India interplay led to a penalty stroke and Kaur rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
Yet 30 seconds later, on the stroke of half-time, SA were back in front when Chamberlain fed Celia Evans out right, whose pass to Davids was immediately relayed back to the instigator for Chamberlain to finish clinically (2-1).
After the changeover, Mayne used SA’s strength around the outside to win two PCs in quick succession, the latter of which saw keeper Punia make a superb diving save low to her right.
Damons got in a shot and SA’s dominance told when a great Chamberlain trap and snap-shot saw the rebound fly to Davids, who struck the ball beautifully on the rise to make it 3-1 in the 54th minute.
But Rampal was not done yet and slammed a PC into the backboard for the score to read 3-2 in the 60th minute.
Deetlefs was helped off soon after, having taken a fearful blow to the hand from Rampal.
Goalkeeper Anelle van Deventer made a big save from a key India PC with eight minutes left as the SA defence came under fierce pressure before the amped up Indians won another PC that Coston deflected high over the crossbar.
Two minutes left and Van Deventer made an astonishing save from a Rampal backhand lash and it was just about match over.
India had to win. Their six points from three games had resulted in a goal difference four less than South Africa’s. Conversely, SA knew that defeat would consign the African champions to a fifth place playoff.
Meanwhile, the SA men must beat India’s men at 17:00 (SA time) on Thursday if they are to qualify for Saturday’s semi-finals against what is likely to be England.
On Tuesday, the SA men beat Wales 5-1 with Natius Malgraff, captain Austin Smith (2), Julian Hykes and Jethro Eustice getting the goals.