POLOKWANE — AFTER arriving safely here yesterday, Zimbabwe's netball Gems have declared themselves ready to start their Diamond Challenge campaign on a positive note when they take on Botswana later today in a tournament that is set to run until Saturday.
The tourney is to run in a round-robin format, with hosts and favourites South Africa, who are also highest ranked at the competition marking the official opening of the 2018 edition with a clash against Namibia.
While teams will be playing to gain points for International Netball Federation rankings, for Zimbabwe and South Africa, it also serves as part of the build-up towards the 2019 Netball World Cup finals in Liverpool, England in July.
The last time the Gems clashed with Botswana at the African Championship in Zambia last August, where they won 58-43.
While naturally the rivals have a point to prove, the Gems captain Perpetua Siyachitema said while her charges are ready, they should not walk onto the court with complacency.
"From the level of competition and competition that we had in camp this time, I am optimistic we are a formidable force that has very good chances of bringing home gold.
"Having to face giants South Africa will be our biggest challenge.
"Still we cannot go into any other match complacent because after defeating them at the African Championships and qualifying for the World Cup, they naturally want to revenge and we also have a point to prove, therefore, we need to be at our best. We need to prove that we are not going to be at the World Cup to add numbers, but that we are going to be a formidable force that will give the big teams a tough time," she said.
After coming second in the previous Diamond Challenge, Siyachitema said her charges are gunning for gold.
"We know there will be tough competition, but our aim still remains gold.
"We are unfazed by the experience these teams have because at the end of the day, whether one wins or loses, we learn a thing or two.
"We have an advantage because we have new blood In the team and with the new strategies and new combinations, our opponents will not have enough time to study us and even if they are to adjust, it may be too late".
She said while in the past Gems have fallen to the disadvantage of height, but the introduction of tall talented players boosted the squad.
"Fusing new blood and a veteran goal shooter who is being sought internationally, we are sure we have assembled the best possible squad.
"With the improvement she has gained during her targets while preparing for the international opportunity that could turn her life around, I am confident she will sail us through," said Siyachitema.
She said the tournament is the best time for players to work on their combinations and new formation as a build-up towards the global showpiece.
"We are taking the tournament as some sort of a camp where we are working towards building strong combinations, identifying areas that need focus and this is a platform for players to prove their competency to qualify for the World Cup.
"This is going to be a colourful contest, a clash of talent and a time to prove that we are the best and also gain points to rise on the INF," she said.
South Africa vs Namibia
Zimbabwe vs Botswana
Zambia SA vs President XII