Ama Agbeze: England captain 'frustrated' but 'at peace' with World Cup omission

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Emotional Agbeze 'very disappointed' after World Cup omission
2019 Netball World Cup
Dates: 12-21 July Venue: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
Coverage: Every match from 15 July onwards will be broadcast by the BBC

"I feel like my netball career has been a rollercoaster. I got the top of the rollercoaster at the Commonwealth Games and now I'm plunging down that drop."

As captain, Ama Agbeze led England to a historic gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last year.

Yet 13 months on, her international netball career is in jeopardy after not being selected for Tracey Neville's 12-strong squad for the World Cup in July.

The 36-year-old is "disappointed" and "frustrated" by her omission, and told BBC Sport it has been difficult to "put on a brave face" since she was told the news.

"I think I'm dealing with it quite well but I'm really disappointed," she said.

"I feel like I'm at peace with the decision, which I never thought I would say because I'm usually a wreck.

"I'm scared that as time goes on there will be a time I break down."

On Thursday, head coach Neville will announce her final squad for the World Cup, which takes place in Liverpool from 12-21 July.

But Agbeze will be the glaring omission from the team sheet, having been denied the opportunity to return to full fitness in time for the tournament.

She was ruled out of January's Quad Series with a knee problem, and her appearances for Superleague side London Pulse have been limited through persistent injuries. Even when fit, she has struggled for selection.

"I have been injured and I'm not where I need to be," Agbeze said.

"I was told that if I just try to get on court, everyone knows I'm not where I need to be, but we've got the whole of May, the whole of June, and the first two weeks of July to get me to where I need to be.

"It wouldn't be fair for me to go not to my full capacity. I did think I had time but obviously that has been taken out of my hands."

'Hopefully I'll be there in spirit' - on the World Cup

Australia and New Zealand have shared every World Cup title from the first in 1963, with Trinidad and Tobago also winning in a three-way share in 1979 when the tournament was a round-robin format.

Since England's win on the Gold Coast last April, Agbeze says the team "have what it takes" to win the tournament for the first time but admits there is "more pressure" on home soil.

"I think us winning the Commonwealth Games not just opened people's eyes to netball in the UK but in terms of international netball, it's opened every country's eyes to the possibility that anybody could win," she said.

"I think it's the most open World Cup there has ever been, but I do think the girls have what it takes and they have got the belief."

Agbeze was first named England captain in 2016 and has won 100 caps for her country, yet despite her absence, hopes her presence will still be felt during the tournament.

"I feel like almost I've done what I needed to do. I was put in place as captain and I feel like I contributed to changing the culture of the team," she said.

"We've got a gold medal for the first time ever and that's a great thing, so I've done my job and now it has been passed on to someone else.

"I won't be part of it but hopefully I'm still there in spirit."

England celebrate winning Commonwealth Games gold
Ama Agbeze (far right) led England to a historic gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

'I don't want this to be the end'

Agbeze made her England debut in 2001 but admits she is in the final years of her international career.

However, she isn't ready to call it a day quite yet and vows her non-selection will not mark the end.

"I'm not getting any younger, I do like playing netball and I've done it pretty much all my life," she said.

"It's difficult because my career has been up and down, and if I had dropped out of the sport the first time I was dropped, I wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't have won a gold medal, I wouldn't have captained my country, I wouldn't have even played for my country. At my first England trial, I wasn't selected, so I wouldn't have got a cap.

"I've had the ups and downs and I've come back many, many times.

"I don't want a de-selection to be the end of my international netball career."

Agbeze is a trained lawyer and wants to start a charity, as well as starting a family with her husband, but believes she will have plenty of options when she does choose to retire from netball.

"I remember my French teacher at school when I did my GCSEs said 'the world is your oyster'," Agbeze said.

"I think when you're young and you're a child, you don't really understand what that means, but I think right now I'm in the position where the world is my oyster.

"I do think everything happens for a reason. This might be a blessing in disguise."

In a statement on Sunday, England Netball said Agbeze was part of the "long squad of 20" and could be called up to the final 12 "at any time".

Neville said: "The World Cup is a challenging competition due to its format and the potential opposition we will come up against. All players selected for this competition are at their physical peak and have shown through the international/club season that they are able to put out consistent performances on a regular basis under extreme pressure, which is crucial leading into July.

"The selection process began last July, since that time Ama has faced many challenges including ongoing injuries which have meant that she has missed out on several playing opportunities, which are crucial leading into selection.

"Ama is a valuable player, plus an integral training partner leading into the World Cup and we will be working very hard with her over the next few months to ensure she is in the best possible shape as she is one of the 20 players in our long squad and could be called up to play at the World Cup at any time.

"We always say that each competition is not just about the players we take, but the ones supporting us behind the scenes."

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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