The disappointment felt by Dan Ryan’s team was in stark contrast to the Malawians, who kept alive their dream of appearing in a maiden Vitality Netball World Cup semi-final.
Coming into the game, fans will have expected to see a close game between the sides ranked 6th and 8th in the world, and they were not disappointed.
Malawi – who included within their ranks Joanna Kachilika, who was making her 100th international appearance – attacked from the first centre pass, and opened the scoring. Northern Ireland’s initial attack saw the ball pass through the net but the goal was ruled out for an infringement.
However Northern Ireland kept pressing, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 advantage. Noleen Armstrong and Emma Magee added a further four goals to take the game out to 8-4, before Malawi suffered a blow when their centre, Thandie Galleta, limped off after nine minutes. Despite this setback, the Malawi Queens rallied towards the end of the quarter, with the shooting of Sindi Simtowe helping to take the score out to 12-9 in their favour.
Northern Ireland started the second quarter brightly and forced interceptions, with Armstrong taking full advantage of the bonus opportunities to once again see the Warriors in front by 13-12.
However in a seesawing game, it was the Africans who registered the next two successful efforts on goal. Armstrong’s miss allowed Malawi to edge further ahead by 17-14. Joyce Mvula replaced Simtowe and made an impression immediately, shooting at 100% as Malawi stretched their lead out to four.
Northern Irish centre Caroline O’ Hanlon was at the heart of everything, and she was instrumental again as they wrestled back some momentum at the end of the half, with Armstrong’s buzzer beater ensuring they went in just two behind, at 22-20.
The unerring Mvula opened the scoring in the second half, before Armstrong replied in kind. Jane Chimaliro then contributed a brace to give Malawi a three-goal cushion, which was the platform the Queens needed to kick on.
Mvula’s accuracy in the circle continued, and was unmatched at the other end, as Malawi took their lead out to nine. Northern Ireland continued to fight though – spurred on by the pain of yesterday’s two-goal defeat to Zimbabwe – and they were able to bring the deficit back down to two going into the final quarter.
With Malawi having started the quarter on the front foot, Magee took what looked a nasty tumble in the attacking third, before getting back to her feet and seeing her next shot eventually find the net to bring the Warriors back to within two.
Errors started to creep in though, and Mvula was in no mood to let them off the hook, shooting superbly as the Queens took the lead back out to a commanding seven goals. Northern Ireland reduced the gap late on, but ultimately Malawi’s movement and clinical shooting earned them the victory.
Malawi’s Joanna Kachilika, winning her 100th cap, said:
“It was a tough game, it was not easy. Northern Ireland played really well. We worked hard as a team. We have the fighting spirit, and that enabled us to win the game.
“I was surprised when I was told it was my 100th game. I am so happy and thankful to have played one hundred international games.”