LIVERPOOL — Zimbabwe won an absolutely thrilling Group A tie against Northern Ireland this afternoon, edging out their opponents to win 51-49.
In the battle to decide who would finish second to Australia in the group, the tussle went right down to the wire, with the lead changing hands multiple times before the Zim Gems held their nerve to edge over the line and spark wild celebrations in the crowd.
Northern Ireland started brightly, briskly taking a 5-1 lead in an opening period which gave no indication of the seesaw nature of the rest of the contest which was about to unfold.
As Zimbabwe clawed their way back into the game, captain Caroline O’Hanlon dictated play for Northern Ireland, working tirelessly to provide opportunities for Noleen Armstrong and Emma Magee. At the other end, Joice Takaidza was keeping the scoreboard ticking over for Zimbabwe, although her attacking partner Ursula Ndlovu was struggling to find space in the shooting circle, and Northern Ireland finished the quarter 15-12 up.
Zimbabwe’s defence tightened in the second quarter, with Armstrong less clinical – she missed two opportunities as Zimbabwe reduced the deficit to just a single goal.
The atmosphere – already electric — continued to build as the two sides traded blows in what was becoming one of the best games of the tournament so far.
Despite the rising pressure though, Takaidza was a calming, composed presence in the Zimbabwean attack, as the Zim Gems edged in front for the first time in the contest shortly before half time. They ended the second quarter by reversing the score of the first, meaning that for the first game in the tournament half time was reached with the scores level – 27-27.
The spine-tingling atmosphere continued into the second half of the contest, but it was Northern Ireland who settled to their task better, pulling away by three goals in the third quarter.
The evenly-matched nature of the two teams ensured that the lead didn’t last long though, and thanks in the main to the accuracy of Takaidza, Zimbabwe clawed their way back to even the scores again.
In the final minute of the quarter, the Zim Gems edged ahead again through substitute Sharon Bwanali, only for Magee to level proceedings at 39-39 going into the final quarter.
The back-and-forth nature of an absorbing contest continued deep into the final quarter, with Zimbabwe getting themselves just in front as the closing minutes approached.
With five minutes to go, Takaidza took their lead back out to two, and followed that up with a fantastic one-handed take and composed finish to ensure that the pressure mounted on Northern Ireland.
Magee responded by drawing the Warriors level at 49-49, but they couldn’t capitalise on having the next centre pass, giving away a foul for offensive contact as they approached the Zimbabwean circle. — nwc