Jani was in fine form in front of goal, as an injury-ravaged Barbados fell to another loss.
Zimbabwe had won the hearts of many neutrals with their performances in the competition so far, and came into the game with the possibility of earning a top-six finish at their first ever World Cup still alive.
By contrast, Barbados had just a solitary win to their name, picked up in their opening fixture of the tournament against Singapore.
This was the first ever World Cup meeting between the teams – both known as the Gems – and it was the Barbadians who made the quickest start, racing into a 4-1 lead early on.
Both sets of shooters were finding the target with apparent ease, and mid-court pressure allowed Zimbabwe – again roared on by their passionate band of supporters – to get back into the game, eventually levelling at 7-7.
The shooters on both sides all had unblemished records as the Zim Gems edged ahead, but it was the strong, composed presence of Jani at goal shooter for Zimbabwe who was becoming increasingly dominant.
Her accuracy, combined with fantastic work by her team-mates in their defensive third, allowed Zimbabwe to push out to 12-8 before Sheniqua Thomas recorded the first missed attempt of the match after ten minutes.
Mistakes were beginning to creep into the Barbadian play, with too many passes being over-thrown and disappearing off the back of the court. Jani, who ended the quarter at 100%, ensured they were punished as the first 15 minutes finished 17-11 to the Zimbabweans.
The gap remained at six through the opening stages of a scrappy second quarter, but it wasn’t long before Jani was pushing Zimbabwe forward again.
The lead was 23-14 when Zimbabwe suffered an injury blow. Perpetua Siyachitema suffered a heavy fall and went off to be replaced by Nadizivei Madzikangwa, who came on to win her 50th international cap.
The change momentarily threw the Zim Gems, as Ursula Ndlovu registered their first missed attempt of the match. Jani’s still-faultless shooting performance was being matched by the displays by her team-mates across the court though, and the Zimbabweans went in at half time 33-19 up.
The third quarter was marred by an injury to Barbados centre Rieah Holder, who went down heavily and left the arena via a wheelchair. She was replaced by Amanda Knight, and though she and her team-mates ensured the closest quarter of the match, they still couldn’t stop the service to Jani ending in the inevitable consequence of further Zimbabwean goals. The Zim Gems ended the quarter having grown their lead slightly – 48-32.
If Barbados suspected their luck was out, that suspicion will have grown during the final quarter, as Tonisha Rock-Yaw and the excellent Shonette Azore-Bruce collided with each other trying to intercept a pass into the goal third, leading to Azore-Bruce also going off injured.
Zimbabwe took full advantage of their opponents’ misfortune to extend their lead throughout the final quarter, chalking up a 66-41 win, as Jani ended with 51 goals from her 53 attempts.
The Zim Gems are now level with Malawi on four points, and play their African rivals in their final Group F game on Thursday.
The first ever Test meeting between the sides pitted Group B winners New Zealand against Zimbabwe who finished as runners-up in Group A after a nail-biting 51-49 victory over Northern Ireland yesterday afternoon.
Zimbabwe, who handed a tournament debut to Adelaide Muskwe, once again brought their flair and enthusiasm to the M&S Bank Arena as the Gems sang and danced their way onto court, delivering the vibrancy that has captured so many hearts in the tournament so far.
The Gems translated their pre-game energy into the early stages of the contest as they matched New Zealand, and the score was tied at 5-5 after four minutes, as the Gems’ Pauline Jani and Sharon Bwanali combined to convert their first five goal attempts.
The back-and-forth contest continued as both sides traded goals, but with the scores tied at 8-8, the Silver Ferns scored eight of the next nine goals to build a seven-goal advantage as Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio began to find their shooting range.
Despite Zimbabwe’s Jani and Bwanali shooting a perfect ten from ten in goal attempts, scoring opportunities decreased as the quarter went on as New Zealand stepped up their defence. By the end of the quarter, the Silver Ferns had increased their lead to 21-10.
As has been the case throughout the entire tournament, New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua continued to tinker with her attacking combinations as Bailey Mes entered the game to partner Folau. Together, they scored seven goals in the opening stages of the second quarter to build the Silver Ferns’ lead.
Offensively, Zimbabwe continued to stutter, struggling to create many scoring opportunities. When they did, however, Jani – who finished the half with her 100% record in tact – and Ursula Ndlovu kept the scoreboard ticking over.
At the other end, New Zealand continued to dominate the Zimbabwe defence as Mes and Folau scored 19 of their 22 goal attempts to extend their team’s lead to 40-18 at half time.
Both sides made attacking changes to begin the third quarter as Ta Paea Selby-Rickit replaced Mes for New Zealand and Joice Takaidza, the top goalscorer in the competition entering stage two, came on for Jani for the Gems. Both players converted their opening goal attempt.
New Zealand continued to capitalise on any slight Zimbabwe error and the Silver Ferns were clinical in their attacking play as both Selby-Rickit and Folau shot at 100% before Folau was replaced by Ekenasio.
Taking a 59-26 lead into the fourth quarter, New Zealand continued to control proceedings and despite Sharleen Makusha keeping the Zimbabwe score moving, the Silver Ferns were never in any trouble as Selby-Rickit and Ekenasio shot a combined 95% in the final period.
The victory for New Zealand takes them to eight points as they look to secure their place in the top two of Group F and advance to the semi-finals. Zimbabwe will be determined to get back to winning ways when they take on Barbados in their next game.
New Zealand captain Laura Langman said:
“It wasn’t too bad. I thought it was great to see us weather the storm at the start and then get into our business towards the middle to later end of the first quarter. I thought it (the performance) was pretty good to be fair.”
Zimbabwe’s Pauline Jani said:
“It was a nice experience to play against New Zealand. We learned a lot, because these girls are good. We are ranked 13 in the world, so we learned a lot from New Zealand.”
In the battle to decide who would finish second to Australia in the group, the tussle went right down to the wire, with the lead changing hands multiple times before the Zim Gems held their nerve to edge over the line and spark wild celebrations in the crowd.
Northern Ireland started brightly, briskly taking a 5-1 lead in an opening period which gave no indication of the seesaw nature of the rest of the contest which was about to unfold.
As Zimbabwe clawed their way back into the game, captain Caroline O’Hanlon dictated play for Northern Ireland, working tirelessly to provide opportunities for Noleen Armstrong and Emma Magee. At the other end, Joice Takaidza was keeping the scoreboard ticking over for Zimbabwe, although her attacking partner Ursula Ndlovu was struggling to find space in the shooting circle, and Northern Ireland finished the quarter 15-12 up.
Zimbabwe’s defence tightened in the second quarter, with Armstrong less clinical – she missed two opportunities as Zimbabwe reduced the deficit to just a single goal.
The atmosphere – already electric – continued to build as the two sides traded blows in what was becoming one of the best games of the tournament so far.
Despite the rising pressure though, Takaidza was a calming, composed presence in the Zimbabwean attack, as the Zim Gems edged in front for the first time in the contest shortly before half time. They ended the second quarter by reversing the score of the first, meaning that for the first game in the tournament half-time was reached with the scores level – 27-27.
The spine-tingling atmosphere continued into the second half of the contest, but it was Northern Ireland who settled to their task better, pulling away by four goals in the third quarter.
The evenly-matched nature of the two teams ensured that the lead didn’t last long though, and thanks in the main to the accuracy of Takaidza, Zimbabwe clawed their way back to even the scores again.
In the final minute of the quarter, the Zim Gems edged ahead again through substitute Sharon Bwanali, only for Magee to level proceedings at 39-39 going into the final quarter.
The back-and-forth nature of an absorbing contest continued deep into the final quarter, with Zimbabwe getting themselves just in front as the closing minutes approached.
With five minutes to go, Takaidza took their lead back out to two, and followed that up with a fantastic one-handed take and composed finish to ensure that the pressure mounted on Northern Ireland.
Magee responded by drawing the Warriors level at 49-49, but they couldn’t capitalise on having the next centre pass, giving away a contact foul as they approached the Zimbabwean circle.
Both teams then traded errors as the atmosphere reached fever pitch, and a fumble by the Northern Irish attackers proved crucial as Zimbabwe re-took the lead through Ndlovu with 80 seconds left.
Fittingly, it was Takaidza who then all-but ended the contest, putting her side 51-49 ahead – a lead which they held on to for the 55 seconds which remained, to claim a famous win.
Zimbabwe’s Ursula Ndlovu said:
“I wanted to cry at the end! I’m just happy – I don’t know what to say! That is one of the most challenging games I’ve played – it was very tough. The Zimbabwe fans – I want to say that I love them all! We try to make them proud.
“I’m so proud because our supporters are representing our country. There are so many supporters – they boost our confidence and we can’t disappoint them.”
Northern Ireland captain Caroline O’Hanlon said:
“We’re pretty gutted. We gave it everything but we made too many errors. We made errors across the four quarters and they were costly in the end – the game was there for the taking and we should have closed it out.”
The current number one-ranked team in the world picked up from where they left off against Northern Ireland yesterday, as they took the lead early in the contest and never relinquished their advantage.
Buoyed by their fantastic support once again, Zimbabwe impressed in the first ever Netball World Cup meeting between the sides, but ultimately fell short of victory.
The Diamonds entered the tournament as the joint tallest team on average, and they made that advantage – as well as their greater experience – count against Zimbabwe, who are the smallest team at the World Cup, as they raced into an 8-2 lead after five minutes.
Zimbabwe recovered from their slow start and began to grow into the contest, creating more scoring opportunities that Joice Takaidza converted, finising the quarter with eight goals.
Australia continued to show their own attacking quality though and they led 18-9 at the end of the first quarter as Caitlin Bassett and Gretel Tippett combined to score all 18 of Australia’s goal attempts.
The Zim Gems raced out of the blocks in the second quarter and reduced the deficit to six goals, but Australia responded and increased their lead to 14 midway through the quarter.
As the second quarter wore on, the Diamonds’ experience began to show and at half-time they had extended their advantage to 21 goals as they led 39-18, limiting Zimbabwe to nine goals in the quarter again.
Zimbabwe replaced Takaidza and Ursula Ndlovu with Pauline Jani and Sharon Bwanali at half-time and it had a positive impact on the Zim Gems as the pair combined to score eight times in the opening period of the third quarter.
The back-and-forth action continued for the rest of the quarter as the Zim Gems recorded 13 goals in total, four more than in either of the first two quarters, but Australia remained on top as they extended their lead to 23.
It was a much improved start to the final quarter for Australia, as they built their lead. Their dominance continued and they outscored a tiring Zimbabwe team 19-6 to complete an impressive victory.
Australia will be hoping to secure their place at the top of Group A when they face Sri Lanka on Sunday afternoon, while Zimbabwe will be confident they can bounce back in their final group game against Northern Ireland tomorrow.
Australia’s Caitlin Bassett said:
“It was a physical match. The players that were out there felt it and it’s a good practice for us for later rounds.
“I think they took advantage of their smaller stature. They use a lot of bounce passes and got around the body really well which is something we had a talk about at half time, but it was hard to put the high ball in because they had really long reach.”
Zimbabwe’s Ndaizivei Madzikangava said:
“As a team we played very well. This is our first time at a World Cup. It was difficult for us, but we did very well. We can learn a lot of things. They are very fast and that made it difficult for us, but I think tomorrow we can do very well.”
With remarkable shooting statistics from both sides the match was a compellingly competitive affair.
With their raucous support creating a so-far unparalleled atmosphere, the Zim Gems made a huge impression with their first ever World Cup victory.
The initial minutes were tentative as each team got a feel for the other, with both connecting well with their shooters. Zimbabwe got balls to goal utilising their speed and agility, whilst Sri Lanka delivered the ball to their towering goal shooter Tharjini Sivalingam, who, standing at 6’9″, is the tournament’s tallest player
Any turnover in this quarter was to be found either in the centre third or through penalties, and after finally breaking the steady goal-for-goal rhythm that had started the game, Zimbabwe gathered momentum and with that the lead, ending the first quarter 19-14 ahead.
Sri Lanka came out of the blocks fastest at the start of the second quarter, quickly reducing the goal deficit. They were able to steal ball from the Zim Gems where they hadn’t before and the steady, stalwart presence of Sivalingam, shooting at 100%, was able to reap the rewards.
However, Zimbabwe’s athleticism soon shone through again and the Zim Gems were able to locate the tips, intercepts and turnovers they needed to push on. With Ursula Ndlovu and Joice Takaidza firing at 93% and 92% respectively, Zimbabwe led 38-29 at half time.
The third quarter was a much more even, with Sri Lanka staying in contention by matching Zimbabwe’s physicality. Sivalingam maintained her 100% flawless shooting, a statistic matched by her supporting goal attack Dulangi Wannithileka.
Despite injures to both Ndlovu and Sharleen Makushka, Zimbabwe’s tenacious play wasn’t disrupted, and they led 53-42 heading into the final quarter.
They continued to dominate, with Sri Lanka only able to put their first shot of the quarter in as the ninth minute died away.
They found their rhythm, but it was too little too late, and the partisan support was able to delight in a final score of 79-49 in favour of the World Cup debutants.
Zimbabwe goal shooter Joice Takaidza said:
“I have goosebumps – this is a dream come true! We didn’t know we had so many people supporting Zimbabwe – to see the whole arena supporting us like that was so exciting.”
Sri Lanka coach Thilaka Jinadasa said:
“We weren’t in the game until the third quarter – it all happened in the last quarter. The girls lost the momentum, especially the centre court – they were not moving around as they should and I think it cost us the match.”