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2019 – 15TH WORLD CUP (LIVERPOOL)
In 2019, we were off to Liverpool. It was 24 years since the Birmingham world championships, the last time that netball’s main event was held in England. There was great excitement from local fans, because unlike 1995, England was considered a strong winning chance here. Crowds were great each day, and the overall tournament crowd record was broken.
World netball was now so competitive, there appeared to be five possible winning chances going into the tournament. Unfortunately, three of them (England, South Africa and Jamaica) were all on one side of the draw and that meant that one of those three had to miss out on the semis. And that team was Jamaica, after the South Africans defeated them 55-52 in a pulsating group game.
Both semi-finals were classic affairs. The South Africans came up against Australia and gave them a huge fright. The Australians got out to a good lead and looked in control but the determined Proteas wouldn’t go away and a nervous Diamonds team clung on desperately to win by just two goals.
Then it was the Roses against the Silver Ferns. In a seesawing match, first one team held sway, then the other. The kiwis gained the upper hand in the third quarter through the incredible shooting of goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and although a spirited England team threatened to come back, New Zealand held on strong to win by the same margin; two goals.
So here we were again. For all the talk about how the rest of the world was catching up (and they were), the final was once again Australia v New Zealand, as it had been at every world cup since that 1995 event in Birmingham. And this final was another great trans-Tasman classic.
Earlier in the tournament, Australia had beaten New Zealand by a solitary goal in the group stages, but the kiwis would have gained great confidence from that match, having fought back from a deficit of eight goals. In the final, it was New Zealand which got on top in a high scoring second quarter and they led by four going into the last 15 minutes.
Once again, it was Ameliaranne Ekenasio who was the star for the Silver Ferns. Under enormous pressure, she held her nerve throughout and landed some amazing goals to continually keep the Australians at bay. The Diamonds came home hard in the last quarter, but the kiwis held on.
The Silver Ferns’ greater experience counted for plenty as they protected their one goal lead and played out time to record a tremendous 52-51 victory. Playing a big part in the win were New Zealand netball greats Casey Kopua, Maria Folau and captain Laura Langman. For Kopua and Folau, this was their world cup swan song. For Langman, who knows?
The resurrection of the Ferns was now complete. Noeline Taurua had achieved what was almost unthinkable. In the job less than 12 months, she had successfully turned the team right around from their disastrous showing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
In the playoff for third, England accounted for South Africa quite comfortably 58-42. But fourth place was still a great achievement for the Proteas and Karla Pretorius was rewarded with the title of Player of the Tournament. Meanwhile, a disappointed Jamaican team had to make do with fifth place, beating Malawi 68-50.
2019 will be remembered as a celebration of African netball, with all four nations finishing in the top eight. Joining South Africa (fourth), Malawi (sixth) and Uganda (seventh) were first timers Zimbabwe (eighth). The excitement and fanatical crowd support that followed the Gems whenever they played will be remembered for years to come.
This was the fifth world cup for Jade Clarke and Geva Mentor of England, both equalling the old record. But the phenomenal Rhonda John-Davis of Trinidad and Tobago, broke that record by playing in her sixth tournament, an incredible achievement. It remains to be seen if either Mentor or Clarke will equal the record again in Cape Town.