The Spar South African netball team claimed fifth place at the World Netball Championships at the Singapore Indoor Stadium with a thrilling 52-50 victory over Malawi on Sunday.
Malawi have long been South Africa’s nemesis, beating them at the last World Championships and the last two Commonwealth Games, and Sunday’s victory means that South Africa are once again the number one team in Africa, and more importantly, have the Malawi monkey off their backs.
Malawi came out hard, and were first to score. They dominated most of the first quarter, and were 15-10 ahead at the break. Shortly before the end of the quarter, Captain Amanda Mynhardt fell heavily, and had to leave the court, necessitating a number of positional changes, with Zukelwa Cwaba making her debut for South Africa.
South Africa came back strongly in the second quarter, leveling the score at 24-all with two minutes to go to halftime. They outscored Malawi 18-11 in the quarter, largely because they were able to keep the ball out of the Malawi circle.
The Malawi goal shooters, Mwayi Kumwenda and Sindi Simtowe, were so accurate that they scored virtually every time they got the ball in their D. Kumwenda had 100 per cent accuracy throughout the match, and Simtowe missed just one attempt.
At halftime, the Proteas had a narrow 28-26 lead. They pulled away in the third quarter to extend the lead to a 10-goal difference, but in the final quarter Malawi, who had brought on some fresh legs in the central positions, began to catch up, and at one stage were only one goal behind.
Goal shooter Chrisna Bootha, who had an indifferent tournament, gained in confidence as the match continued, and goal attack Claudia Basson also showed her class. Centre Erin Burger had an outstanding game, and was named player of the match. She was responsible for a number of critical intercepts, and she kept the ball moving in the right direction.
Head coach Elize Kotze, who took over as part of the coaching panel just six months ago, was ecstatic about the victory. “I’m overwhelmed with joy,” she said. “We’ve finally got this Malawi thing off our backs.
“We’re once again the top African team, and finishing fifth means we have qualified for the next World Championships. So we don’t need to worry about qualifying tournaments, but can concentrate on playing the top teams.” She said the victory was also important for the game in South Africa, as it would put netball back on the map.
Vice-captain Zanele Mdodana said she believed the tough match against Northern Ireland on Saturday had given South Africa the edge they needed to beat Malawi. “We’re the African champions now, and anything is possible from here,” she said.
Mynhardt agreed, saying it was important for the team to stay together, and to build on their success for the future. “I’m so proud of the girls,” she said. “We’ve all made sacrifices to be here, and now it has all proved worthwhile.”