England, Australia favourites in World Cup semis

Despite losing to England in the preliminary stages, South Africa will join the hosts in the World Cup semifinals, along with Australia and New Zealand. Chloe Knott -- Danehouse/Getty Images

After six days of non-stop netball, the World Cup is nearing the business end of the competition.

Sixteen teams have now become four and the stage is set for some mouth-watering semifinal fixtures in Liverpool. Competition is fierce, with all four teams being capable of lifting the trophy, and Australian World Cup winner Sharni Layton has even described it as "the most exciting tournament ever".

Defending champions Australia will face South Africa, while hosts England will face New Zealand for a coveted spot in the final.

Australia sailed through the group in their typically free-scoring form, up until they faced fierce rivals New Zealand in the final game of the stage on Thursday. The meeting of the two powerhouses did not disappoint and their history of a single goal margin in World Cup crunch games led to a feeling of deja vu.

The intensity of the game was evident from the first centre pass, with the reigning champions starting as the better team and leading for the first two quarters. But the Silver Ferns took charge after the halfway mark and, thanks to some creative changes by head coach Noeline Taurua, the game looked like it could go either way. The trans-Tasman rivalry looks to be back at its very best.

Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett led by example throughout the game, delivering a classy performance in the circle with 90 percent shooting accuracy. It was therefore quite poignant that her 37th goal of the game was a decisive one, as Maria Folau's attempt to equal the scoreline on the klaxon fell short.

Defending champions Australia have netted 475 goals thus far in the tournament, but it will come as little surprise that they recorded their lowest score against their toughest opponents. They will be favoured to triumph over South Africa on Saturday, but the winning belief instilled in the Proteas could make them challenging opposition and they are not to be underestimated.

South Africa have not been in the semifinals since 1995, but coach Norma Plummer has experienced the podium in this competition and she knows the upcoming opponents well; the Australia side that her players will face on Saturday features two players that Plummer guided to gold at the World Cup in 2011.

But there is a question mark over her most experienced and influential South African player, as Bongiwe Msomi was ushered off after just 11 minutes of play against England on Thursday, and the team failed to recover. In her post-match interview, Plummer was hopeful that Msomi would be fit for action on Saturday, but was full of praise for replacement Erin Burger's performance.

Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni, who play together in the Australian Super Netball league, will need to tighten up their defending if they are to cause headaches for the Diamonds' shooters.

South Africa's high error rate at the front end was evident against England, with Maryka Holtzhauzen missing five from nine in the first half. But they can utilise Lenize Potgieter's height, athleticism and fearless approach in the semifinals in order to test the Diamonds' defence.

The No. 5 ranked team came into this competition as somewhat of a wildcard, but if they can rough up the Diamonds in the shooting circle, they could still secure a spot in the final.

Meanwhile, the English Roses have set up a semifinal showdown with New Zealand after topping their group with five comfortable wins. Tracey Neville's side came out firing in the preliminary stages, winning three from three before they faced their first real test against No. 2 seeds Jamaica.

Veteran Goalkeeper Geva Mentor and the incredibly athletic Serena Guthrie were England's standout players during the clash with The Sunshine Girls, who had beaten them three-nil in a series last year.

But the shooters were tested against Jamaica's defensive duo of Shamera Sterling and Jodi-Ann Ward, and at times they appeared to lack confidence.

Neville was caught on the sideline showing her frustration at Jo Harten and Helen Housby for not shooting, but the pair certainly seemed to find their feet by the time they faced South Africa, when their output was almost flawless.

While South Africa's circle defenders may be among the best in the world, the Roses duo ran rings around them, with Housby frequently driving out to free up space for Harten.

Housby expressed her excitement about their pairing, saying: "My combination with Jo is getting really strong now and it's nice to know where she's going to be.

"She's a little bit unorthodox, but I love playing with her. She's so athletic and dynamic and it keeps defenders guessing."

The Roses have only dropped one quarter in the competition thus far, but they know they need to be more clinical against New Zealand -- a capable side with plenty of experience.

There have been two centurions for the Roses so far this campaign in Harten and Eboni Usoro-Brown, while Jade Clarke and Mentor are playing their fifth World Cup, and England will hope that their experience will help when they face the mighty Silver Ferns, who silenced critics with their gutsy performance against Australia.

The Silver Ferns have strength in depth and Taurua's changes against the Diamonds -- including three separate shooting combinations -- led to vast improvements in their game, with the decision to move Folau to attack having the required effect, as the veteran netted 21 from 24.

In the circle, Folau will come up against a fellow netball great in the form of Mentor, and fans can expect an exciting clash between the pair, who may both be hanging up their dresses after this tournament.

Like England, New Zealand have plenty of experience in their ranks -- Folau, Laura Langman, Casey Kopua and Katrina Rore have all earned over 100 caps each. Both teams have stars in each third, so the game will be contested in every inch of the court, but England have an eighth player: the home crowd in Liverpool.

The atmosphere at the M&S Bank Arena during the Roses' clash with South Africa was electric and encouraged Neville's side to deliver their best performance of the tournament.

England's cricketers beat the Kiwis by the smallest of margins last Sunday, and England's netballers will believe that they can repeat the feat this weekend.