Queens and Gems book World Cup spots

TWO more nations have stamped their tickets to the 2023 Netball World Cup after the weekend’s Africa regional qualifiers concluded. Nine nations took part in the regional qualifiers, with Uganda choosing not to compete having already qualified for the World Cup and South Africa having also qualified by still competing, eventually winning the gold medal at the event.

It was always likely who would finish third considering Malawi stands out from the rest of the field with the Queens in second place while Zimbabwe ensure they return to the Worlds and snatch the bronze medal. The Gems earned the right to go to their second World Cup – after finishing 15th at the last – by beating Zambia by 10 goals in the bronze medal game. Previously, the Gems had lost only to South Africa by 17 goals in the group stage and Malawi by 21 goals in the semifinals.

The two groups were split into five and four teams respectively, with Zimbabwe and South Africa joined by Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania in Pool A, while Zambia, Kenya and Eswatini were in Pool B alongside Malawi. After round-robin play against all other teams in the group was completed, the top two nations from each pool advanced to the semi-finals. Malawi faced Zimbabwe first and won 62-41, while South Africa unsurprisingly defeated Zambia by 31 goals (74-43). Malawi’s victory secured their World Cup qualifying spot by reaching the gold medal match, while Zimbabwe-Zambia’s winners would snag last place. That, of course, was Zimbabwe with a 59-49 win.

South Africa was so dominant that the SPAR Proteas won the individual player awards. Shadine Van der Merwe (top defender), Khanyisa Chawane (top midcourt) and Elmere van der Berg (top shooter) all improved throughout the tournament. After missing out on reaching the Commonwealth Games semi-finals, it was a huge confidence boost for the SPAR Proteas as they warm up for the 2023 Netball World Cup in their home country. Coach Dorette Badenhorst said it was a surreal experience playing in front of home fans.

“It’s just great to play in front of your own crowd again, it was a very long time,” said Badenhorst after the win. “You know, when you have to play against you against 6000 people, it’s bad, but how great was that. I’m so thankful that the World Cup is happening in our own country. I mean how can we lose with such supporters?

“I’m just grateful we didn’t let them down and that we played good netball all week. “We’ve played with all 12 players and that’s the most important thing for these qualifiers to make sure we have depth to get everyone on the pitch. I’m just grateful for the supporters, I thank the team for showing a lot of courage.”

Malawi coach Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa said qualifying for next year’s event is important as the continent makes history by hosting its first World Cup.

“It was very important for us to qualify, the World Cup is another stage and in connection with that the World Cup will be held in Africa for the first time and it would have been hard to miss playing the first World Cup on African soil .” said Chawinga-Kaluwa. “We had to be an integral part of the World Cup being organized in South Africa. It’s amazing that the World Cup has never taken place on African soil, so every African should be happy about it. This is a better moment to show European teams that Africa can do it. That means they will use this as an example for another African country to host in the future.”

Zimbabwe Gems coach Ropafadzo Mutsauki said he believes his team can one day break into the top six and hopes that by qualifying for next year’s World Cup the Gems would build confidence and presence against the best nations in the world to do even better.

“As a team we are happy. It’s a great honor to qualify for the second time,” he said. “We give credit to the players. They did well, they worked hard for it. Everyone was prepared, all of Zimbabwe was prepared for this day and the girls were not disappointed. They did their best and we’re in, which is good.”

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