Chipo Sabeta in Liverpool, England
Zimbabwe 79-49 Sri Lanka
VITALITY Netball World Cup debutants, Zimbabwe, made history by beating Asian champions Sri Lanka in their opening match at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool yesterday.
Backed by a vocal band of Zimbabwean supporters based in the United Kingdom, the Gems gained momentum from the onset and took a 19-14 first quarter lead.
The Asians reduced the deficit in the second quarter courtesy of their towering goal shooter and tournament’s tallest player Tharjini Sivalingam, but Zimbabwe utilised speed and agility to outwit the Sri Lankans.
Goal attacker Ursula Ndlovu was in top form, while Australia-based goal shooter Joice Takaidza made no mistake in the ring, giving the Gems a 39-20 lead at the end of the second quarter.
Zimbabwe were forced to make two injury- induced substitutions, Ndlovu limped off with a knee injury and was replaced by Sharon Bwanali. Goalkeeper Sharleen Makusha suffered an eye injury and was replaced by Rudo Kurume, who did an excellent job of thwarting the tall Sivalingam.
The Gems went into the fourth quarter leading 53-42 and Sri Lanka, who are making their 10th appearance in the Netball World Cup could not stand the heat when coach Lloyd Makunde introduced fresh legs.
Takaidza was in dazzling form in the shooting circle, scoring 59 of the Gems’ 79.
After the end of the game in what could turn out to be a thrilling journey, coach Makunde said he wants his girls to stay level-headed and focused for their next group game against reigning champions Australia at the Samsung Diamonds today (9AM local time).
“We are happy with this victory and excited because no one gave us a chance by virtue of being newcomers. We were playing a team that relies on one or two tall players and we had to counter them with speed. Tribute to the girls for their resilience and great show considering our journey from the qualifiers and preparations to get to this stage,” said Makunde.
“We needed the victory against Sri Lanka for morale boosting as we prepare for our second match against Australia in which we have to be at our best.”
The Gems will be hard pressed to prove that they can compete against the world’s best when they take on Australia, but yesterday’s injuries might dent their bright start.
Australia, the world’s top-ranked side are looking for a 12th World Cup crown. They fired warning shots with an 88-24 thumping of Northern Ireland yesterday.
However, Makunde is optimistic that some of his versatile players will fill the gaps caused by injuries.
“They were not bad injuries, but we had to pull them out to avoid further aggravation. A decision will be made by the doctor tonight after assessing them.
“However, I believe some of the players will do duty equally well. The majority of my players are versatile and it will be a good opportunity for them to star,” Makunde said.
The Gems will be targeting a positive result against Northern Ireland tomorrow as they aim to perform well in Group A and boost their chances of advancing to the next stage of the tournament as well as to improve on their world ranking.