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Morocco's Lahrichi: 'We believe in our dream of qualifying for the World Cup'
CASABLANCA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - In theory, the five tickets available for African countries for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China may go to the continent heavyweights Tunisia, Nigeria, Senegal, Angola, and Egypt, but Moroccans don't believe in theories.
They believe in themselves and no-one else.
And, this is exactly what point guard Ali Lahrichi made sure to point out to FIBA.basketball when discussing the ups and downs that his national team has faced in recent years and was asked why Morocco should be hopeful of making a surprising World Cup appearance.
From a team that finished eighth at FIBA AfroBasket five years ago to reaching the Semi-Finals four years later, and, more importantly, to become one of the 12 Africans teams in the Second Round of the World Cup African Qualifiers, Morocco deserve more credit than they have received so far, Lahrichi said.
"We - players and coaching staff - believe in our dream of qualifying for the World Cup. We just need a bit more support from our leaders to put us in a position of beating those big African teams," Lahrichi explained.
Morocco currently sit in sixth place of the FIBA [Africa] Rankings - ahead of former African champions, Cote d'Ivoire and the Central African Republic, and Cameroon.
And although Morocco will face a stiff competition when they face Tunisia, Cameroon, and Chad in Group E in September, Lahrichi remains adamant that the time to make history will shortly be arriving
"Each game we play, it's like a final for us. The atmosphere within our team is like a united family, and this has been the key to our team. "Gladiators" is the only word I can find to describe our team."
"Losing to Tunisia and Angola so many times in the past made us stronger, and that is why we are looking forward to the Second Round. Nothing is impossible for us as a team," he noted.
Last month, Lahrichi and Co demonstrated that team spirit and tenacity in Cairo. Trailing by three points with less than five seconds remaining against the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 6ft3in (1.92m) guard found Zakaria El Mashbahi who buried a three-pointer that took the game to overtime. And, in the extra five minutes, Morocco prevailed.
"Everything started (to pay off) in Senegal at FIBA AfroBasket 2017. We had a poor preparation before the tournament, but we trusted and we played for each other. We didn’t look at the names of the teams that we were going to play. We just played hard, and that started to become our teams’ mindset. We play hard as a team, and we never give up," he offered.
After making his national team debut as an 18-year-old at FIBA AfroBasket 2013, Lahrichi has become one of Morocco leaders in the World Cup Qualifiers, averaging eight points and a team-high 3.8 assists per game.
Lahrichi on the impact that the 2013 African Championship had on his career: "I listened to coaches, to my senior players, and I pledged to become a better player. It was a defining moment in my national team career."
"We have good infrastructures and facilities to organize a World Cup Qualifiers, and I am sure our fans would love to see it happens because basketball in Morocco starts to become as popular as soccer [football]. "
Morocco will face African champions Tunisia in the opener of Group E on Friday, September 14 in Rades, near the Tunisian capital Tunis.