Fiji beat Sri Lanka to claim their second win of the Preliminaries stage two at the Vitality Netball World Cup, confirming their 13th-place play-off spot against Samoa, the leaders of Group E heading into day six.
This morning’s match was effectively a play-off to decide who would face Samoa in the 13th-place game and who will face Singapore for 15th place – and it was Fiji who prevailed, 59-44.
This was the fifth meeting at a World Cup between the two sides, with Fiji having won all of the previous four matches, including a 77-31 victory at the last competition in Sydney in 2015.
Given the first four matches of the tournament, this fixture was expected to be a reasonably closely-contested encounter. Fiji currently occupy 17th spot in the international netball world rankings, while Sri Lanka are just one place behind in 18th.
Episake Kahatoka, the Fiji goalkeeper, will have studied the expert performance from Samoan counterpart Lenora Misa against Sri Lanka’s Tharjini Sivalingam yesterday – as she earned Player of the Match against the goal shooter – and applied herself with similar success.
Sivalingam – top scorer at the tournament over the first five days, and with 93% accuracy overall prior to the start of the game – was earning her 100th cap here, but Kahatoka restricted her chances with five aggressive interceptions inside the opening 15 minutes.
Sivalingam did score nine times in the first period, but given that Sri Lanka’s strategy centres largely on feeding her the ball as often and as quickly as possible, the Fijian defence had coped admirably.
With goals exchanged frequently at either end, the first quarter concluded with Sri Lanka edging in front, 11-10.
After Sivalingam was thwarted fairly effectively in the first quarter, in the second, she seemed to be put off her stride. When she got the ball in her hands she inevitably converted, but that only happened on five occasions. Less than 40 seconds before the break, she was taken off.
Having fallen behind in the first quarter, Fiji scored 17 times before the interval, including eight times through goal attack Unaisi Rauluni who was earning cap number 36, and conceded only nine. At half-time, it was they who had established a seven-goal lead.
That advantage was only set to increase further, as the third quarter began with a flurry of Fijian goals. Goal shooter Matila Vocea was pivotal in firing her side into a 14-goal lead as Fiji flexed their attacking muscle.
Having started the match so well, Sri Lanka were now firmly on the backfoot. Gayanjali Amarawansa, winning her 38th cap, started the game at centre for Sri Lanka before she moved to wing attack and then back to centre again. She, like many others in yellow and red, was by now struggling to keep meaningful possession.
A deluge of Fiji goals was halted abruptly as Kahatoka hobbled off to be replaced by Adi Vakaoca Bolakoro following a fall, but even missing their excellent goalkeeper, they were barely threatened as the quarter played out. The deluge merely became a steady flow.
Bolakoro admirably took on the task of dealing with Sivalingam, who had now returned to the court, while Vocea and Rauluni increased the goal difference to 19.
At the three-quarter mark, the result was almost safe for Fiji, and they had the fairly simple task of coasting home to victory, leading 47-28 at this point in the game.
Sri Lanka narrowly won the final quarter by four goals, but Fiji’s 12 goals took the final scoreline to 59-44.
Both the 13th-place game – involving Fiji and Samoa – and the 15th-place game between Sri Lanka and Singapore, will take place during session 15, on Friday morning.
Fiji’s Kelera Nawai said:
“We worked hard, we worked together and we pushed. It was an important game. We’re very happy. We wanted to win that game because we wanted a rematch with Samoa (after the 55-54 defeat against them earlier in the tournament).
“They’re going to come hard again – we’re expecting them to come hard. We’re just going to keep pushing and try to win the (Samoa) game.