Chipo Sabeta in Liverpool, England
THE Vitality Netball World Cup (NWC) kicks-off today with 16 teams competing for the game’s top prize and the challenge is for debutants Zimbabwe to leave a mark in Liverpool, England.
This is the 15th edition of the premier netball tournament and the third time England has played host to it after the inaugural competition in 1963 and 1995.
The senior Zimbabwe national team, known as the Gems, start their campaign at the M&S Arena against a 19th ranked Sri Lanka, the 2018 Asian Champions.
Other teams in the Gems’ group are reigning champions and number one ranked Australia and Northern Ireland, who are ranked ninth.
The Gems are one of four nations from Africa and will be seeking to capitalise on their unknown status to upset their higher ranked opponents. The others are South Africa, Uganda and Malawi.
Gems coach, Lloyd Makunde, believes the girls are ready to acquit themselves well in the world event and not just to add to the numbers.
“We are not here by mistake and I am grateful to everyone who supported us to date.
It’s our debut World Cup appearance, but that must not be an excuse. Most of our opponents in Group A are experienced.
They have some extremely tall players and are very physical, but we are going to give them a tough time,” said Makunde.
“We have two players honing their skills in the Australian and English leagues where they have learnt how to cope with pressure when things become uncomfortable. For us, it’s a matter of having an early goal in the tournament as we target the first clash against Sri Lanka.”
Goal shooter, Joice Takaidza plays in Australia, while goal defender Adelaide Thandeka Muskwe is based in England where they have gained experience rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best players.
With a clean bill of health, Makunde is confident that the Gems will do Zimbabwe proud.
“Everyone is fit and ready, although we might need to be careful with our captain Perpetua Siyachitema, who has a shoulder strain. This is a big platform and we must not be carried away.
It’s a world event and I want to promise Zimbabweans that we will do our best. The competition and choice we have in the squad is also good for the team.
“However, it’s about the connectivity of the players on court on matchday which will give them an advantage against our experienced opponents,” Makunde said.
There were dramatic changes to the international rankings a week before the NWC.
Australia retained their number one ranking and Jamaica displaced Commonwealth champions, England, to move into second place.
New Zealand, the only country other than Australia to have won the World Cup, remain in fourth position, while South Africa retained their fifth place ranking.
Malawi dropped three places into ninth position, while Uganda moved one notch up into sixth, just one place behind South Africa. Zimbabwe dropped out of the top 10 to perch on 14th place going into the World Cup.
England will be seeking to claim their first world title, although Australia and Jamaica remain firm favourites.