Chipo Sabeta in Liverpool, England
ZIMBABWE’S national netball team, the Gems claimed a famous win yesterday when they beat eighth-placed Northern Ireland 51-49 in Ground A at the Vitality Netball World Cup at the M&S Arena in Liverpool, England.
Zimbabwe, ranked 14th on the International Netball Federation rankings, finished second in Group A and qualified for the next round after recording their second win in the World Cup.
Despite questionable umpiring decisions that constantly went against them, the Gems pulled off yet another impressive result by holding their nerve to edge Northern Ireland.
The Gems qualify for the next stage with group leaders and defending champions Australia, who won all three of their games, as well as Northern Ireland.
The top three teams from each group proceed to the next stage, meaning only Sri Lanka are out of the tournament after losing all their three group matches.
The first quarter ended 15-12 in favour of Northern Ireland, but the Gems upped their game in the second and third quarters, which both ended tied 27-27 and 39-39 respectively before the Gems snatched it at the death with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.
As the atmosphere reached fever pitch, Zimbabwe, particularly midcourt players, Perpetua Siyachitema, Patricia Mauladi and Ndaizivei Madzikangava, were guilty of many handling mistakes, giving away possession needlessly to add to their woes caused by some glaring biased officiating against the Gems.
The back-and-forth nature of an absorbing contest continued deep into the final quarter, with Zimbabwe getting themselves just in front as the closing minutes approached.
With five minutes to go, goal shooter Joice Takaidza again carried the Gems by putting them into the lead. She lit up with a fantastic one-handed take and composed finish to ensure pressure weighed down Northern Ireland going into the final seconds of the match.
“It’s a great feeling considering that we were on the edge throughout the game. I am so excited because this was our target. Unfortunately, we were victims of some biased officiating, but it’s important that the girls fought to the end. They knew how important this win was to us,” Gems’ coach Lloyd Makunde said.
Makunde admitted that his side made many mistakes due to pressure.
“This is a big stage and remember we are here for the first time. Our opponents were intimidating and the match was too tense. Players react differently to tough situations and I must admit that some of them made constant mistakes. It was a platform for them to learn,” Makunde said.
Zimbabwe now move into Group F with Malawi, New Zealand, Barbados, Australia and Northern Ireland.