Malawi’s netballers have proved to be one of the stories of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The African side stunned giants New Zealand 57-53 to send shockwaves through the netball world.
Amazing atmosphere during and after today’s match as New Zealand 🇳🇿 lose to Malawi 🇲🇼 57-53!!
Check out the celebrations below ⬇⬇
Video creds 📹: Cecilia Molokwane, SA President 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/KiMLPVoAB2
— Gilbert Netball HQ (@GilbertNetball) April 8, 2018
Malawi backed that up with wins over Scotland and Wales.
Two opening defeats killed their hopes of reaching the semi-finals.
But those triumphs have brought attention to a nation unaccustomed to sporting success.
Malawi is a small landlocked country in South East Africa, surrounded by Zambia to the west, Tanzania to the north and east, and Mozambique to the south and east.
Previously known as Nyasaland, Malawi was born out of independence from Britain in 1964.
It is one of the least-developed and poorest nations in the world with a population ravaged by HIV/AIDS.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, sporting success has been thin on the ground with no medals in eight Olympic Games appearances.
Like most of Africa, Malawi is football-mad but the men’s national team has never reached the FIFA World Cup.
Netball has long been popular among schoolgirls, and the last decade has seen their women rise to sixth in the world.
Malawi’s star player is prolific goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda.
The 28-year-old sprung to prominence at the 2010 Netball Series where her exploits earned Malawi a draw with world champions Australia.
In the 2015 World Cup, netball’s world championship, Malawi just missed out on a place in the semi-finals.
Cheered on by the Sydney crowd, they were edged out 63-62 by Jamaica who advanced to the last four.
Despite losing their fifth-place play-off to South Africa, Kumwenda was named player of the tournament.
She plies her trade in Australia with Super Netball franchise, the Melbourne Vixens.
Kumwenda was thrown out of the Malawi camp last October after reporting late for training, but reinstated to the squad a month later.
Malawi’s success on the Gold Coast came as something of a surprise after a disappointing 12 months.
They had won just two of their previous 14 matches, both against lowly Fiji.
And ‘The Queens’ had travelled to Australia without veteran head coach Griffin Saenda due to illness.
That poor form continued as they opened with a heavy defeat to England.
Their semi-final hopes were then all but ended 54-52 by African rivals Uganda, ranked seventh in the world, despite Kumwenda’s 43-goal haul.
New Zealand had scored two comfortable wins, and a third looked inevitable against Malawi.
The Silver Ferns have reached all five title matches since netball was introduced in 1998, winning it twice.
They also beat Malawi 75-42 in the warm-up game last month.
New Zealand led 32-25 at half-time, but the underdogs took the third quarter 17-9 to go in front.
And they prevailed 57-53, with Kumwenda scoring 41 goals from 46 attempts, to complete the biggest upset in Commonwealth Games netball history.
— Nyasa Times (@NyasaTimess) April 8, 2018
A nail-biting 51-50 triumph over Scotland made it back-to-back wins.
Their inferior goal difference meant they had little chance of overtaking Uganda or second-placed New Zealand, both of whom had three victories from five matches.
But Kumwenda’s 47 goals from 50 tries led Malawi to a 68-53 decision over Wales to cement their fourth place in the Pool B.
They now face Northern Ireland in the seventh-place play-off.
After two consecutive fifth places at the Commonwealth Games, that is something of a disappointment.
But this set of Malawi players will always have that night where they stunned one of the superpowers of the sport.