Singapore fourth, after losing to Botswana
Coach Aitken says there's much work to do for SEA Games after Singapore finish fourth
Singapore's netball girls must be feeling a sense of deja vu.
Last Monday, they were beaten 42-38 by Botswana after allowing their opponents to open up an early seven-point lead during their Mission Foods Nations Cup group-stage match at the OCBC Arena.
In yesterday afternoon's third-placing match, the hosts were again downed by Botswana - this time, the score was 47-41 - after again letting the Africans take a seven-point advantage in front of 2,006 fans.
The only difference was that the visitors did it in the second quarter, as opposed to the first on Monday.
As with the first match between the two sides, Singapore put up a valiant fightback in the final quarter, pulling to within two points, but eventually lost momentum and fell short.
Goal shooter Charmaine Soh, who had a great game and sunk 32 of 36 shots (for an 89 per cent conversion rate), said: "In the first quarter, we went in with a bang.
"Second quarter, we kind of let our guard down and they caught up really quickly.
"It was quite a disappointing game, but we just have to learn from our mistakes."
Singapore goal shooter Charmaine Soh (in red). TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA
Soh rued the team's "basic mistakes" in the second quarter, suggesting the team's relative inexperience - several senior players retired after last year's Nations Cup tournament - could have been one factor behind the slip-up.
Singapore coach Ruth Aitken said: "I thought it was an amazing game. Certainly Botswana played very well.
"We let them get a bit of a lead, but we really have an amazing passion and determination to get back into the game. We just couldn't get over the line.
"The fightback was fantastic, but we can't let (opponents) get goals early. That's the reality."
NEED TO IMPROVE
New Zealander Aitken said she was "overall very happy" with her squad's performance at the Nations Cup, but added there is more work to be done, with next August's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur the big target.
"We're a long way off (from the SEA Games) and we're not quite where we would like to be," said the coach.
"It's about us really working hard now and ensuring next year we keep growing the depth we've got and fine-tuning that."
For Botswana coach Sithulile Mhlotshwa, yesterday's win was sweet revenge for her girls, who lost by a single point to Singapore in last year's Nations Cup third-placing match.
She added that it was a good experience for her younger players, who will feature at next year's World Youth Netball Championships (for Under-21 players), which Botswana will host.
"We will have a diamond challenge tournament with other African teams and will mainly use our U-21 players," she said.
"We are very happy with our win over Singapore today.
"They can improve in their defence in the goal circle and that can come with experience, but their young players played very well today."
The rise of Zambia
PAPUA NEW GUINEA 49
They came, they saw and they conquered.
Zambia might have been the only newcomers in this year's Mission Foods Nations Cup, but the world No. 16 side proved familiarity does not count for much, when they beat Papua New Guinea (PNG) 65-49 in yesterday's final at the OCBC Arena.
The Papuans (above, in red), who are ranked one place higher than their opponents, had no answer to the Zambians' (above, in green) slick, fast-paced passing game.
Zambia also boasted the tournament's best attack, with star goal shooter Hellen Banda posting a 93 per cent conversion rate in the final, scoring 28 of her 30 shots.
Banda was later named her team's Most Valuable Player for the tournament.
Zambia coach Charles Zulu, who took charge of the team in 2012, said his team's rise on the international scene was a long time coming.
As his players celebrated their triumph by dancing on court with the trophy, Zulu watched on with a smile on the sidelines, and told the media: "It took me almost five years to build this team.
"There were some challenges, like players getting pregnant or getting married and then deciding to stop playing.
"It was not easy, so I am happy."
Even though Zambia were the shortest team at this year's Nations Cup - they have an average height of only 1.62m, whereas the tallest team Ireland have an average height of 1.76m - they made up for it with their pace and passing ability.
None of the five other nations had an answer to Zambia's style of play; the African side won all five round-robin games before yesterday's final.
Said Zulu: "It's just about determination and preparation.
"We knew we were coming here for a battle and so we prepared really hard for it."
The Nations Cup is the Zambia netball team's first international outing since last year's Netball World Cup in Sydney, where they finished 14th.
Zulu added he hoped their triumph in the Nations Cup will help Zambia rise in the world rankings and earn them a ticket to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
Only the top 12 teams in the world will qualify for the Commonwealth Games.