Australia win clash of titans

By Chia Han Keong

IT WAS a match befitting a final between the undisputed top two netballing nations in the world.

Australia and New Zealand served up a gut-wrenching battle yesterday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, which went into extra time before defending champions Australia won their 10th Mission Foods World Netball Championships in a 58-57 thriller.

No one on the court gave an inch to her opponents; every point was earned through tough-nosed court positioning, pinpoint passing and precise shooting under duress.

Fittingly, Australian goal shooter Caitlin Bassett, who shockingly missed a potential winning goal in regulation, was the one who composed herself and buried the winning point to spark off delirious celebration among the Australians - and shell-shocked devastation amid the New Zealand team.

"I thought I had merely equalised for the team," she said of her winning shot.

"It was so close, so tense, I didn't even think it was the winner. It's only when I turned around and looked at my teammates that I thought, 'Oh my god, we've won it'."

At the stadium packed mostly with Australian and Kiwi supporters, the two proud netball nations slugged it out from the first whistle.

Bodies clashed and tumbled, imprecise passes were easily picked off and every goal was hard-earned.

New Zealand held a 26-20 half-time lead but, predictably, the Australians roared back and tied the game at 27-all. From then on it was a nail-biting test of nerves as both teams held on to see who would blink first and make the crucial error.

Said Australian captain Natalie von Bertouch, who received the trophy from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean: "It's amazing how tightly we two teams are matched up, the game momentum was going back and forth.

"By extra time, many of us had nothing left. We're just going on adrenaline, and hoping we can pull this one off."

Ironically, New Zealand's final, crucial miss came from goal attack Maria Tutala, the same player who made the gold-winning goal against the same opponents at the Commonwealth Games last October.

Said Kiwi co-captain Casey Williams: "There's really no blame put on anybody. We gave everything, and came up just a little short. We'll be back for another shot at the title."

England finished third after beating Jamaica 70-49 in an earlier game yesterday.

Singapore finished 15th - the same position they achieved at the last tournament in 2007 - after beating Malaysia 47-36 last Saturday.

The next World Netball Championships will be held in Sydney in 2015.

hankeong@sph.com.sg


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