Zimbabwe Gems back at the World Cup
THE 60 minutes were simply divine as Zimbabwe’s Netball Gems touched the Heavens again!
The ecstasy that gripped a packed Remembrat Hall in Pretoria yesterday as the Gems mesmerised the arena could not have been a better advertisement for netball.
It was a moment of tears and jubilation as Zimbabwe Netball Association (ZINA) president Leticia Chipandu and the Gems wrote their own piece of history by qualifying for a second successive World Cup.
And they did it in style.
The Gems sealed their place at the global netball showpiece with an emphatic 59-41 triumph over neighbours Zambia in a thrilling match, which was a decider for the last available 2023 World Cup slot.
Coach Ropafadzo Mutsauki and his charges had to settle for third place behind South Africa and Malawi after finishing the tournament with four wins out of six outings.
Ironically, South Africa, who will host the World Cup in Cape Town, and Malawi were the only teams to beat the Gems in these African Championships.
Resultantly, Zimbabwe grabbed qualification for that second ticket which was on offer at the tourney.
This means Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Uganda who qualified based on their world ranking, will represent Africa at the World Cup.
South Africa are ranked fifth while Uganda sit a rung below on the World Netball rankings.
After watching the Gems secure another dance with the global stars, Chipandu was naturally on a high.
“I cannot even express the joy. We have shed tears, especially as we reflected on the road that led to this day. The girls raised our national flag high.
“We are grateful for the support that came through for us here and at home. We made a vow when we left home that we were not going to disappoint, were hungry for this and indeed made it,” Chipandu said.
Chipandu will, in fact, be at a World Cup for the third time after she also led the junior side to their finals in Botswana in 2017.
Such an achievement, she said, should attract sponsorship for the Gems and netball at large. “This should also win us confidence from the Government and the corporates, especially Spar, who are our partners, National Foods and Edgars, among others who have always been there for us.
“I am very passionate about the game, I sometimes have to go out of my way to make things work and it has passed on to the girls. You can see the passion even when things are tough,” she said.
In yesterday’s match, it was a tight and physical yet fascinating contest from the onset, with each team fighting to put their centre pass to good use.
But the Gems had the edge for much of the game and capitalised on Goal Shooter Joice Takaidza’s imposing stature in the shooting ring.
Also capitalising on their defensive element, they created the much-needed turn overs despite Zambia mounting pressure from the mid court.
They put to good use each pass that reached their goal shooting circle.
The scores at the end of the first quarter set the tone for the Gems as they led 16-12.
Zimbabwe, however, survived a scare as Zambia grabbed successive turnovers, reducing the margin to just a goal.
Inside the 23rd minute, Tafadzwa Matura came in for Ursula Ndlovu to improve the mid-court and this had the effect of cutting the supply line for Zambia.
By half-time, the on-fire Gems had widened the gap to a 30-26 lead.
Digging deep from the goal keeping third, defenders Tanaka Makusha proved too powerful for the opponents’ shooting duo of Diana Banda and Beauty Nakazwe, who visibly lost their composure.
The veteran Goal Shooter was then introduced in the 42nd minute to replace Joice Takaidzwa.
Visibly hungry for another World Cup dance, Bwanali displayed spectacular turns in the ring, converting every pass that got into her hands.
With the ZDF queen leading from the front, the Gems led 43-32 by the third quarter.
As the teams came back on court for the final quarter, the Gems were sensing victory and took the game to their opponents.
“The changes were part of the strategy. We did not want the opponents to read into our game too much, hence we needed to keep confusing them,” said assistant coach Tatenda Shinya.
“Takaidza has the height, so it was a mismatch with the Zambian defenders. We capitalised on that, then later brought Bwanali in for movement at the front.
“The girls made us proud to return home with the World Cup ticket. It portrays all the hard work we put into this,’’ he said.
Assistant coach Simbarashe Mlambo under whose mentorship most of the players emerged was equally elated.
Mlambo is also head coach for the Young Gems and had to be roped into the seniors’ fold as a developmental coach.
“The call came as a surprise, not that I doubted my abilities but that I understood the pressure that comes with the hot seats.
“We had to put in extra hours, I am delighted it worked out and as we prepare for the World Cup it means working even harder.”
Mutsauki paid tribute to his charges and assistants for the feat.
“This is what any coach would wish for. I have been to the qualifiers before. This time was a different responsibility.
“As a head coach now, the responsibility was bigger and to achieve such a result shows that I am doing something correctly, together with my assistants. We are playing our cards right,” Mutsauki said.
He called for timely preparations ahead of the World Cup and believes partaking in more invitational tournaments and international friendlies will improve the Gems’ performance.
Vice-captain Claris Kwaramba walked away with the Player of the Match award, to make it a total of four such gongs for the Gems.
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