Scotland might have preferred having their hearts physically ripped from their chests.
Trailing by six goals deep in the final quarter against Malawi, the side dug its heels in one final time and clawed their way back to almost, almost, demand a draw.
Malawi coach Whyte Mullima summed it up saying, “I was almost dying. They missed three chances.”
In a match that could have finished very differently, Malawi will be thanking their lucky stars that Bethan Goodwin’s final shots at goal fell the way they did.
It was a tug of war at the best of times. Scotland got the jump on their more-fancied opponents to lead 9-6 after the opening nine minutes. Malawi adjusted their marking, closed down the middle corridor and drew in the deficit.
Fiona Fowler wreaked havoc in defence early and offered deep into attack, allowing Claire Brownie and Nicola McCleery direct avenues to Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher.
At quarter time Malawi had more than double the amount of turnovers and looked disjointed in attack – two rare features for the Queens. Scotland’s small lead was courtesy of a penalty shot to Goodwin after the whistle.
Like in the match against New Zealand, Scotland moved Murphy to WA and brought on Bethany Sutherland to cover her.
It worked for a while, as Malawi grew irritated with Scotland’s persistence and employed what they thought were sneaky pushing tactics that were plain to see by umpires Jono Bredin and Kristie Simpson.
In a bid to lift the team, Mwai Kumwenda yelled instructions any time she didn’t have the ball in her hand. Her battle with Hayley Mulheron began with a bump of bodies and only grew from there.
Down by four midway through the second quarter, Takondwa Lwazi shuffled to WA, Thandie Galeta came into the game at C and Bridget Kumwenda took to the bench.
The move was smart. The timing, no so. Lwazi was stood off and Malawi had their centre pass reversed for taking more than the allotted 30 seconds to initiate the change.
From there Malawi went on a six-goal run, with Lwazi getting her hands involved in anything she could with her 160cm tall frame, sighting and delivering to Kumwenda with precision.
Goodwin was unshakable for the Scots, netting her first 23 goals without missing and again sunk the last shot of the quarter.
Both sides were hindered in their play with a lack of advantage calls. But as bodies began to contest more frequently, so did the umpires whistle.
As the margin stretched to eight in the middle of the third term, Fowler was cautioned for descent on a Scotland centre pass which was also reversed.
The endeavor rarely waned from the two countries as they battled for supremacy.
The match looked set to tip in Malawi’s favour as the margin grew out to 48-41 with just over seven minutes remaining.
But Scotland weren’t done just yet. They looked tired, but after forcing yet an eighth turnover from Kumwenda, the margin shrunk back to four.
The frantic final two minutes ended with the sending off of captain Jane Chimaliro, an advanced penalty and three missed shots from Goodwin, who had been near-faultless all game.
Malawi 51 def Scotland 50
(12-13, 28-23, 39-36, 51-50)
Kumwenda 44/47 94%
Chimaliro 7/8 88%
Goodwin 38/42 90%
Gallagher 12/15 80%
Starting line ups
WA B. Kumwenda
What they said
Whyte Mullima, Malawi coach
“It was hard. Very hard. I think they (Scotland) capatilised on our weaknesses. The turnovers were just too much.”
“After winning that difficult game against New Zealand everyone else wanted to come flat out for us and we know they will come hard.”
“We beat New Zealand and we struggled to beat Scotland. Every game is different. I was tense on the bench. I thought Scotland was going to win.”
“They were excited but they took things for granted.”
What’s so special about the Malawi team?
“Teamwork and love. I tell them to love one another. They play together as a team. We’re not used to playing the New Zealand style or the Australian style. We have our own Malawian style. We just want to have fun with the spectators.”
Gail Parata, Scotland coach
“We had to lower our error rate, because it’s been quite high in other matches. Malawi are very good at retaining possession.“
“I’m really proud of the girls, the way they fought hard.”
“She (Goodwin’s) been shooting awesome for us for the past three matches. Poor thing. She’s really upset.”
“We’ve got a lot of belief in our team at the moment. We’ve been putting out some good periods of play. We knew if we could string it altogether then we could be in with a chance.”
“Against New Zealand we had a really poor start, then our second, third and fourth (quarter) we did some good stuff, so thought “We can take on Malawi”.”
On tomorrow’s match against Uganda
“Uganda are a bit like Malawi. They really retain possession well. So we need to be able to look after our ball. As you can see, we can score it, so it’s getting it safely to the circle.”
“We knew that we’ve got the belief, the fit players, our defensive pressure has been a key for us. We just need to tidy up on our errors.”
“We came here to try and beat 7th and 8th in the world and we were in a hard pool. I’m really proud of the girls and how they’ve taken on some of the big teams.“