Zimbabwe knocked out of Netball World Cup after narrow loss to Tonga

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Zimbabwe suffered a narrow 55-46 defeat to Tonga at the Netball World Cup 2023 in Cape Town, ending their hopes of advancing to the next stage.

The Gems, ranked 13th in the world, put up a brave fight against the seventh-ranked Tala’s, but could not overcome their superior shooting accuracy and defensive pressure.

This was the first time Zimbabwe and Tonga faced each other at a World Cup. It was also a historic occasion for Zimbabwe’s goal defence Felistus Kwangwa, who earned 100 caps for her country. She was one of the five Gems who had previous World Cup experience, having played in Liverpool in 2019, along with Sharon Bwanali, Claris Kwaramba, Sharleen Makusha and Joice Takaidza.

The match started with a thrilling first quarter, as both teams showcased their athleticism and skill. Zimbabwe took an early lead with some brilliant attacking moves and flawless shooting from Bwanali and Tafadzwa Matura. The Gems’ sharp passing and movement put the Tongan defence under pressure and they looked confident and composed. However, Tonga soon found their rhythm and clawed back the deficit with some clinical finishing and turnovers. They edged ahead by three goals at the end of the quarter.

The second quarter saw Tonga extend their lead, as their defenders Mo’onia Gerrard and Kelea Iongi disrupted Zimbabwe’s attacking flow and forced errors. Tonga’s mid-court players also dominated the game, capitalising on Zimbabwe’s mistakes and feeding the ball into their shooters, who rarely missed. Zimbabwe tried to reduce the gap in the last minutes before halftime, but Tonga maintained their advantage and led 27-24 at the break.

The second half was a tense and tight affair, with neither team giving up easily and with Zimbabwe desperate to avoid a third consecutive loss in Cape Town. The Gems continued to challenge Tonga’s attack, as Kwangwa and Makusha made some crucial interceptions and rebounds. Tonga’s shooters however remained calm and confident, scoring from all angles and distances.

The final quarter saw Zimbabwe trailing by nine goals, but they did not give up hope of causing an upset against a higher-ranked opponent. They tried to stage a comeback and scored some quick goals, but Tonga managed the game well and controlled the ball. Zimbabwe rallied in the last quarter, but it was not enough to change the outcome.

The Ropafadzo Mutsauki coached side encountered numerous obstacles during their preparations for this year’s tournament, struggling with limited funding and resources. This financial constraint prevented them from holding their planned training camps, forcing them to make do with a school in Harare as their makeshift training base. Moreover, the team was unable to engage in international friendly matches against other teams in the region, depriving them of valuable competitive experience.

Zimbabwe now drop to contest 13th – 16th place — their worst performance at the World Cup, having finished eighth in their debut outing in Liverpool in 2019.

The tournament in Cape Town is the first time the Netball World Cup has been held in Africa in its 60 years.


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