ZIMBABWE’S Gems put up another impressive performance yesterday to claim their second victory here when they beat Northern Ireland 51-49 in a closely contested Vitality Netball World Cup match at the M&S Bank Arena.
With the top three teams from Groups A to D advancing to the next round where they will compete for the title, Zimbabwe needed to give it their best shot to ensure they go into the next round with two wins to improve their chances of fighting for better placing.
The Gems had to fight to the end in a match that could have gone either way as both teams really wanted a win to improve their chances of challenging for better positioning in the preliminaries stage two of the tournament since they are carrying through their results from the first stage.
Gems coach Lloyd Makunde said this was a mission accomplished after he indicated going into this match that they needed two wins going into the next round.
“It indeed is very influential and it obviously gives us confidence going into the next match. I can say now it doesn’t matter who our opponents will be on the next match, anyone who comes we can take them on anytime. Mentally we are stronger now than before the game,” said Makunde.
Makunde dedicated the win to the nation that has been rallying behind the team on their debut appearance at the World Cup.
“We won this for the nation. This is for Zimbabwe. Playing a better ranked team always sometimes gives shivers to other teams but the girls fought hard and we managed to prevail over our better ranked opponents.
“So I would say kudos to the girls, they worked hard, they fought as a unit. We made mistakes but they always woke up and fought so kudos to them again,” said Makunde.
Northern Ireland coach Dan Ryan conceded the Gems proved to be the better side on a day they thought they had control of the game after an early lead.
“I thought it was an amazingly high quality match between two teams desperate to win the match. I thought Zimbabwe played an amazing game, they have all work and we knew they were going to be very tough opponents.
“We felt that we probably had control of the match at certain times, and we just let ourselves down with a few decision making errors in poor execution and you could see how much Zimbabwe wanted it. They wouldn’t go away and the trust they had in each other was amazing.
“In the end in some pressure situations they really stood up and delivered and gave the crowd a plenty to cheer about,” said Ryan.
It was a tight contest with the Zimbabwe coming from behind after Northern Ireland took an early lead to claim the first quarter 15-12 as Northern Ireland’s pair of goal shooter Noleeen Armstrong and goal attack Emma Magee appeared to be giving Zimbabwe’s defence some problems.
The Gems fought back to end the second quarter with the introduction of goal attack Sharon Bwanali for Ursula Ndlovu paying off as both teams were tied at 27 goals at the end of this quarter. The match which had to be decided in the last quarter, continued on an even pattern for most of the time.
But it was the Gems who rose to the occasion when it mattered as their shooting accuracy coupled with vice captain Felistus Kwagwa’s crucial intercepts which Zimbabwe capitalised on towards the end of the match made the difference.