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'It's going to be a dogfight against Nigeria,' says Cote d'Ivoire's Fofana
NANTES (France) - Vafessa Fofana was 18-years of age when half of his current Cote d'Ivoire teammates featured at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010.
Now, the Paris-born says, he has many reasons to try and experience a World Cup for himself.
The 'Elephants' will host the second leg of Group F of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers in Abidjan from February 22-24.
"I AM NOT ONLY REPRESENTING THE COUNTRY OF MY PARENTS, I AM PLAYING FOR MY PEOPLE. IT'S A SPECIAL FEELING THAT WILL LAST MANY YEARS TO COME"
And to help his country secure one of the five tickets available for African teams for the 32-nation World Cup, they will need to "play as a team and make Ivorians proud", the 1,98m (6ft6in) small forward said to FIBA.basketball.
And although Cote d'Ivoire share Group F's third place with Central African Republic with a 4-5 record, they will need to beat Nigeria, Rwanda and Mali to return to the World Cup for the first time in almost nine years.
“When I talk to Solo Diabate, Mohamed Kone - guys who played in the World Cup before - they tell incredible stories of being part of something that will mark the rest of your basketball career. So, that motivates me to take these last three games very seriously. I want to be part of the World Cup family too and play against the best teams and players in the world," Fofana admitted.
But the qualifiers hasn't been an easy ride for the Ivorians - who started off with a shocking defeat against Mozambique but fought back, stunning Senegal in the first round.
Now, Fofana who plays for Nantes in France's PRO B insists, it's all about focus.
"There is only room for improvement now, we can’t afford to make the same mistakes from the last window. Nigeria is a good team, no doubt about that, but all we have to do is to stay focused from start to finish of that game. The game against Nigeria is going to be a dogfight."
A Cote d'Ivoire rising star, Fofana is averaging team-highs 11 points per game, but it's not his individual performances in six qualifiers games that he cares about.
"It’s going to be hard for sure because we are going to play against some of the best teams in Africa. But we are confident we can do better this time around. In the last window we made silly mistakes, which proved costly to us."
He continued: "I have been talking to my teammates and coaching staff, and we are all very excited to be able to play this last window in Abidjan."
Almost six years ago, Cote d'Ivoire seemed prepared to secure a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014, but a loss to eventual champions Angola in the semifinal meant the end of the road for the hosts.
"Our target is to win all three games and make it better than we did at FIBA AfroBasket 2013," Fofana noted.
"There won’t be any pressure because we are in a position now that we have nothing to lose.
"We respect all teams, we are not going to underestimate anyone just because we’ll be playing at home."
And for a team that aims higher goals, Fofana has a message: "We have to be better at handling the ball, communicate more, play smart and cut down on turnovers. If we do that, and with the players and coaching staff that we have, we’ll be doing great."
Fofana went on detailing the significance of playing for the 'Elephants': "Being invited to represent Cote d’Ivoire at big event such as the World Cup Qualifiers has been one of the highlights of my basketball career so far.
I am not only representing the country of my parents, I am playing for my people. It’s a special feeling that will last for many years to come."