ZIMBABWE national netball team assistant coach Ropafadzo Mutsauki says his charges are drawing inspiration from their underdogs’ tag as they prepare for the Africa Netball Championship/World Cup qualifiers tournament penciled for Lusaka, Zambia, next week.
The six-day-long jamboree, which runs from August 13 to 18, sees seven countries - Namibia, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the hosts -- battling it out for continental glory. However, securing World Cup berths will be uppermost in the minds of the other six.
The Confederation of African Netball Association has decided to let the annual continental fiesta double up as qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.
The 15th edition of the quadrennial global showpiece will be held at Echo Arena in Liverpool, England, in July next year.
South Africa and Malawi have already qualified automatically by virtue of being ranked inside the top-six in the world, but the latter will be part and parcel of next week’s event as they aim to fine-tune their squad as well as try to win continental silverware with less pressure.
The former, on the other hand, have decided against taking part in the competition.
Two better-performing teams from the cast will join Malawi and South Africa for the right to represent Africa in England next year.
With Uganda, who are ranked seventh in the world and third in Africa, boasting a number of overseas-based players led by Peace Proscovia and ever-improving Zambia tipped to progress, Mutsauki knows the advantage of carrying the underdog tag into tournaments of this magnitude.
He believes being outsiders will lessen pressure on his team but he is also aware of the danger of treating lower-ranked teams complacently.
The Gems of Zimbabwe are ranked 13th in the world and fourth in Africa while both Botswana (sixth and 22nd) and Namibia (seventh and 28th) are expected to be the whipping girls of the tournament.
“We know that the tournament will be closely-fought and it will be tough. Zimbabwe are not amongst the favourites to either land the continental crown or to seal one of the World Cup spots,” said Mutsauki.
“We know that we are one of the underdogs at the event but that status actually inspires us to want to prove a point. We won’t be under any pressure whatsoever and that will enable us to play our normal game.
“We have a lot of good players in our fold who are good enough to fend off any challenge which we are going to encounter. We have prepared well for the championship and we are confident, this time around, we will make it to the World Cup.
“We have psyched up our players and they are both mentally and physically prepared for the challenged. We are treating all teams the same way. The way we will approach the matches will be the same. We are not overrating or underrating any team at the competition. Every team deserve respect,”
Zimbabwe will have to summon elastic endurance as they will have to contain the pressure that comes with playing a double-header on a day they open their campaign as they lock horns against Malawi and Botswana on Tuesday. They play hosts, Zambia on Wednesday and Namibia the following day before wrapping their schedule against Kenya and Uganda in the final two days of the competition.
While Zimbabwe, who won bronze in last year’s edition of the Africa Championship, have left no stone unturned during their preparations, including playing friendlies with local male clubs, Namibia have also gone out of their way preparing for the onslaught.
With Netball Namibia vice-president Rebecca Goagoses saying her organization has sourced for the services of the High Performance Board to help in the fitness aspect of the girls, the team are not only eying on improving on their last-place finish in last year’s continental edition but to shred the form book and clinch a World Cup place.
Uganda coach Vincent Kiwa Kawooya has since warned his players not to underestimate any team while Botswana and Zambia are also fancying their chances ahead of the potentially-thrilling tournament.