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Abidjan a place where Central African Republic hope to make World Cup history
SALONICA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Johndre Jefferson had just landed in the Greek city of Salonica to join his new club PAOK when he heard the news of Abidjan being named hosts of Africa's sixth and final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers.
"I Can't wait to get there," the Central African Republic (CAF) power forward said to FIBA.basketball.
It's in the Ivorian city of Abidjan where CAF, from February 22-24, hope to turn their history around and secure one of the two spots still available for African teams for this year's World Cup in China.
"WE WANT TO BRING CAF TO THE WORLD CUP SO WE CAN REPRESENT THE PEOPLE AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL, A PLACE WE HAVEN'T BEEN SINCE '74. THAT WOULD MEAN SO MUCH TO ME"
Even knowing that CAF face an uphill task against Rwanda, Mali and Nigeria, the 6ft9in (2.07m) forward remains confident in their chances of qualifying for a World Cup for the first time in more than four decades.
"I think by sticking to the formula we have used in the previous games, which is play by committee, that we can achieve our goal that we set," he explained when asked how CAF could improve their chances of making history.
"We want to bring CAF to the World Cup so we can represent the people at the highest level, a place we haven’t been since '74. That would mean so much to me," he pointed out.
With Cameroon (7-5), who currently hold the best third-placed position, which grants a place in the World, and Cote d'Ivoire (4-5) with relatively similar chances as CAF (4-5) in the race to China, Jefferson and Co need to be highly efficient in Abidjan next month.
CAF can secure a spot in the World Cup as the best-ranked third-placed team and only if they win their last three games by a combined margin of at least 119 or 120 points, depending on the number of goals scored (119 if they score over 267 points and a margin of 120 points if they score under 267 points).
"You’re playing on a global stage and that will inspire the people on levels that are beyond just basketball," Jefferson said of the impact of a World Cup qualification would have back in the Central African Republic.
"We have a great group of younger guys coming along now as well. Qualifying will serve as a motivational tool for the country," he noted.
With an average of 10 points and seven rebounds in six African Qualifiers games with the CAF jersey, Jefferson couldn't feel more integrated in a team that has been playing together for years.
"My whole thing joining this team was to make sure I didn’t disrupt anything that the guys have been doing prior to me," the 30-year-old said. "So far, we’ve been doing a really good job of just playing together as a unit and we have built a relationship whereas we speak almost everyday.
"I embraced the opportunity to play in the qualifiers because it gave me an opportunity to play for something bigger than myself. Being around the guys and fans, their passion gave me the extra motivation to want to do anything necessary to make it to the World Cup. It will be the biggest accomplishment in my basketball career."
Former African champions CAF last featured at a major world tournament at 1988 Seoul Olympics, and for Jefferson, the African Qualifiers have a special meaning: "It's really important because on a personal level, it gave me the opportunity to be a part of something that represented a whole nation of people," Jefferson recalled.