Despite the faultless shooting of Jhaniele Fowler, England produced an exceptional third quarter which powered them towards a 56-48 victory.
England started quickly – profiting from two early turnovers of possession to take a 4-1 advantage. Great work from Jo Harten set up Helen Housby to convert a rebound to stretch that lead out still further to 8-2, and that margin was maintained until Housby was penalised for footwork in the circle.
That triggered a Jamaican comeback, with Fowler excelling as the Sunshine Girls got back to within a single goal. However, Housby made no mistake with an opportunity in the final seconds of the quarter which restored the hosts’ two-goal cushion at the end of the first 15 minutes – 14-12.
The atmosphere inside the M&S Bank Arena went up a notch as the teams re-entered the court for the second quarter, and Eboni Usoro-Brown – making her 100th international appearance – responded with a great piece of defending to win back possession for the hosts. Following that, England stretched their lead back out to four, but once again, Fowler’s strength and composure in the circle ensured Jamaica found a way back.
The Sunshine Girls took the lead for the first time since the opening stages with five minutes of the half remaining, but wonderful work by first Guthrie then Geva Mentor wrestled momentum back for England. As in the first half, Housby had the ball in her hands as the clocked ticked down to end the quarter, and once again she made no mistake to give England back their two-goal advantage – 28-26.
England carried on that impetus with a blistering start to the third quarter, stretching their lead out to five.
Jamaica, however, again came back, with their defence put increasing amounts of pressure on England’s attack and slowing proceedings down. Adean Thomas at centre was competing readily with the inspired Guthrie as the Sunshine Girls brought the score back to 34-32.
Via improved shooting from Harten and one particularly impressive piece of play from Jade Clarke, though, England again began to build a lead. Sloppy play from Jamaica and increased space in the circle for Harten and Housby saw England race into a 36-44 lead at the end of the third quarter, a period of the game which would turn out to be decisive.
The Roses came out of the blocks fastest in the final quarter, with three goals, but the Sunshine Girls matched that almost instantly; the speed at which the Jamaicans transitioned play showed their remaining belief that they could still overturn the deficit.
However, the irrepressible Guthrie seemed forever on hand to quash Jamaican hopes, finding turnover ball in seemingly impossible situations.
She and her team-mates were applauded off by a rapturous Liverpool crowd at the final whistle, after their 56-48 win edged them closer to the semi-finals and put Jamaica’s final four hopes in real doubt.
Jhaniele Fowler, Jamaican goal shooter and captain said:
“To be honest, the expectations were great and we have a talented team, but talented teams also finish last sometimes so I guess we have to fight hard to come back again.”
Serena Guthrie, England captain and Player of the Match, said:
“Obviously we’re very pleased. They’re a tough team and we knew we were going to be in for one hell of a game and it was that. It was a high quality game and it was probably our first real test so to come off after what is our fourth game in a row, having put in a performance like that, I think we can take a lot of confidence from that going forwards.”
In what was the game of the tournament so far, the Proteas edged a feisty and entertaining encounter.
Pundits tipped the match to be a closely-fought and tense encounter, and that was exactly how it panned out with an end-to-end, entertaining game in store for those inside the M&S Bank Arena to savour.
Both sides had beaten Trinidad and Tobago and Fiji – the other two members of Group C – over the course of the last two days, but this decider was always going to be the toughest match for both in the Preliminaries Stage One.
South Africa, who are currently ranked fifth in the world, had only ever beaten Jamaica – who are behind only Australia in the world rankings – once at a World Cup, losing four times previously.
It was they who struck first, through goal shooter Lenize Potgieter, though Jamaica were quick to reply with a goal of their own.
With top spot on the line, the first quarter began at a frantic speed. South African goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen lacked precision in front of the net as she converted only half of her 10 attempts, but despite that, her side edged in front.
That lead was largely gained thanks to the clinical Potgieter, who scored each of her 11 shots. Only timely defending from Jamaican goalkeeper Shamera Sterling, winning cap number 34 for her country, prevented her from scoring more.
As the whistle blew for the end of an intense first quarter, South Africa led by five goals, with the scoreline standing at 16-9.
As the match progressed, the quickness of world-class movement and speed of play from both sides showed no signs of lapsing; if anything, it was set to increase.
Driven forward by centre Adean Thomas, Jamaica attempted to cut the deficit and looked set to successfully do so with a strong eight-minute spell.
South Africa, though, ended the half strongly, heading in for the break 32-21 in front, their advantage deservedly extended to 11 goals.
Bongiwe Msomi, who became the third South African player to reach a century of international appearances yesterday in the Proteas’ victory over Fiji, saw much of the ball in the first half of the game, but her influence waned during the third quarter as Jamaica threatened a comeback.
Jamaican goalkeeper Sterling clashed off the ball with South African goal shooter Potgieter as the game began to simmer. The bumping of chests between the pair was a sign of the heightened emotions that come in an end-to-end match of such significance.
The halt in play to sort out the disagreement, however, did not knock Jamaica out of their stride. Rather, they continued to push on in search of more goals required to close the gap.
Pushed on by an ever-more-vocal crowd, they won the third quarter 17-10, fired forward by goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler’s 96% proficiency in front of goal, cutting the difference in scoreline to just four to set up an exciting finish.
The final quarter was the most frantic of all, with Jamaica pushing closer and closer to overhauling the deficit, ultimately falling just short.
They drew level with 10 minutes remaining in the game before Potgieter dragged her side back in front once again with a cool finish under the pressure of the game and an opposing defender.
Back and forth the momentum swung as Jamaica levelled twice, only for South Africa to pull ahead once again at the last, showing grit and steel to deal a hammer blow of their own.
A three-goal lead with seven minutes remaining momentarily became two with six minutes left on the clock, but that was the tightest the scoreline got in the closing stages.
Jamaica won the final quarter 14-13 – but were still three goals short overall. South Africa’s lead, garnered over the course of the first half, was just about sufficient for them to edge over the line as they remained – just about – in front.
The standing ovation for both sides after a sensational match-up was thoroughly deserved.
South Africa’s Lenize Potgieter said:
“It’s an amazing feeling – you have no idea! To beat the number two side in the world, to be in a team that never gives up – we were up by quite a few and then almost equal, but we just kept on fighting. I’m proud of everyone – super proud of coaches, players, supporters. I can’t explain this feeling!
“The atmosphere was amazing. When the scores were level the crowd were on their feet. That’s a game that people want to watch!
“I think we are able to beat anyone in the world. It’s just about staying together, having honest conversations and not taking them personally. I think we’re strong enough to take a medal at this competition but we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves.”
What looked to be a keenly-contested game was turned on its head in the second quarter when Jamaica came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 16 unanswered goals, and from then on the result was never in question.
Both coaches elected to make several changes to their starting line-ups from their opening World Cup matches. Jamaica had the luxury of being able to rest players following their comfortable victory over Fiji, while Trinidad and Tobago were in search of their first win following their disappointing defeat to South Africa.
Trinidad and Tobago squandered first use of the ball allowing Jhaniele Fowler to fire Jamaica into an early two-goal lead. Her opposite goal shooter Samantha Wallace had a shot to equalise, but it bounced off the rim. Jamaica took full advantage of the reprieve, carving out a 9-5 scoreline.
Fowler was in tremendous form but jarred her head when reaching for the pass that would lead to her eleventh goal. An interception from Stacian Facey took the score to 16-12, but Trinidad and Tobago suddenly clicked into gear to move within a single goal. The Sunshine Girls completed the scoring in the first quarter to hold a narrow 17-15 advantage.
In the second quarter, good work along the touchline saw Shanice Beckford maintain her 100% shooting record. Jamaica monopolised possession, scoring the next seven goals and establishing a 23-15 advantage. The Calypso Girls simply could not keep hold of the ball, and the deadly duo of Fowler and Beckford continued to pile on the agony with unanswered goals. Finally a red dress, in the form of Wallace, scored but by then the damage had been done, with Trinidad and Tobago having conceded 16 unanswered goals and looking at trying reverse a 36-18 deficit.
Trinidad and Tobago’s defensive difficulties were illustrated when Jamaica overthrew a pass out of bounds, but still managed to score next. By this time Jamaica were looking comfortable with a 42-21 cushion, although Trinidad and Tobago did add the final two goals of the half.
A couple of interceptions meant that Jamaica renewed their assault on the net, scoring the first four goals of the third quarter. This time, Trinidad and Tobago were able to make a positive contribution at the other end, but Jamaica’s lead continued to grow.
Rebekah Robinson, on in place of Beckford, extended the lead to 24, before Romelda Aiken assumed goal shooting duties from Fowler. Her initial shot from under the net hit the rim, but there was no mistake with the rebound. Both sides continued to trade goals, moving the score along to 57-34 at the end of the third quarter.
Trinidad and Tobago made good use of the initial centre pass in the fourth quarter and an interception meant they reduced the deficit to twenty. Robinson, only firing at 50% accuracy, took the score to 60-38, before Aiken pushed the Jamaicans out to 23 goals ahead.
Trinidad and Tobago kept pressing, but overthrown passes once again saw them squander possession, before the final goal of the encounter summed up the match: Jamaica being gifted possession courtesy of an overly-ambitious pass and making no mistake at the other end of the court.
The side ranked number two in the world have looked impressive in their first two matches, but will face a sterner test when they take on South Africa tomorrow.
Jamaica’s Shanice Beckford said of their start to the game:
“We were flat, we were not sticking to the game plan. Our coach told us we needed to mark more. Nicole Dixon came on at centre and she brought that defensive (aspect) to that second quarter.”
Jamaica got off to a strong start, with goal shooter Romelda Aiken towering above her opponents to score twice. Fiji were unfazed though, and while Jamaica’s attack dominated, they were unable to settle themselves in the first five minutes and missed a handful of opportunities.
They got into their attacking stride though, building a healthy lead as the first quarter progressed. Once Fiji managed to break through Jamaica’s strong defence, they too showed glimpses of promise in the attacking third, despite ending the first quarter 19-8 adrift.
Fiji came back strong in the second quarter, scoring in the opening minute. Jamaica quickly seized control though, keeping their opponents out for a full ten minutes while consistently building their lead. Fiji regained some strength in the final five minutes, with Laisani Waqa scoring three times and Lydia Panapasa scoring in the final 10 seconds of the quarter.
Despite the brief rebuilding job though, when the half time whistle blew Jamaica were comfortably ahead: 40-14.
A dominant third quarter saw the Jamaicans add 27 goals to their total, with substitute Jhaniele Fowler contributing the lion’s share of those.
Jamaica’s experience and strength was really starting to show, as Fiji’s young team – which included a host of World Cup debutants – struggled to stop the flow. They remained resilient though, and brought on fresh legs which posed a new challenge for the Sunshine Girls in the fourth quarter.
Lydia Panapasa and Unaisi Rauluni took their opportunities when they got on to court, but Jamaica showed their class to wrap up a comfortable 85-29 win.
Jamaica’s Vangelee Williams said:
“I feel happy about the win. It wasn’t our best performance but the fact that we could make use of everybody today – we maintained the lead and we maintained our dominance.
“We threw away a lot of balls carelessly – we need to clean up on those simple errors. We need to fix those because we know in the bigger games it will cost us more.”
Fiji’s Lydia Panapasa said:
“The girls did good against the number two team in the world – there are a lot of positives for us to take. This is my first world cup and it’s been amazing – everyone is really supportive. We have family coming to watch and the atmosphere is really good.”