The Netball World Cup tips off amid unprecedented publicity in Liverpool on Friday.
Here PA provides a run-down of the format and the stars to watch as England look to build on last year’s stunning Commonwealth Games success.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sixteen teams are involved in the group stages, six of whom qualified automatically: hosts England, plus Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, South Africa and Malawi, by virtue of their standings in the current International Netball Federation rankings. The remaining 10 places were earned through continental qualifying tournaments. Scotland and Northern Ireland qualified after negotiating the event in Perth last year.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Split into four groups of four, the teams initially face each other on a round-robin basis. The top three teams in each group advance to Groups F and G, from which the top two go through to the semi-finals. The draw means England will avoid playing either Australia or New Zealand until at least the last four. All remaining teams will face each other in a series of placement matches.
WHO’LL WIN IT?
Australia and New Zealand have contested the five previous world finals, but they each come into the tournament with questions to answer. The Australians are still smarting from England’s stunning win on the Gold Coast, while New Zealand have endured a less-than-convincing year to date. If England can cope with the pressure they will be in the mix – but both South Africa and Jamaica are also more than capable of springing a surprise.
AND WHO ARE THE OUTSIDERS?
Semi-final places will be beyond them but both Scotland and Northern Ireland can chase top-eight finishes which could prove crucial for qualification for future events. Uganda’s route to the tournament – and especially that of captain Peace Proscovia – has been remarkable and heart-warming in equal measure. Rank outsiders Sri Lanka face the mother of all netball maulings against Australia in their group stage game on Sunday.
WHO ARE THE PLAYERS TO WATCH?
Any England success will be built around the experienced and uncompromising Geva Mentor, while Australia’s equally talismanic equivalent is the tough former basketball star Gretel Tippett. New Zealand shooter Maria Folau will look to shrug off the controversy associated with her husband Israel and help her team’s chances. The stunningly reactive Shamera Sterling is Jamaica’s star, while defender Shadine Van Der Merwe could see South Africa come in under the radar.