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Road to China 2019 - Can Cameroon make their first World Cup appearance?
YAOUNDE (Cameroon) - Apart from Group F teams, no other team is more interested in the upcoming final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers than Cameroon.
FIBA.basketball team has compiled a four-part series about the four countries who still have chances of securing the last two tickets available for African countries for the World Cup in China later this year.
We start with the "Indomitable Lions" of Cameroon.
From February 22-24, the Ivorian city of Abidjan will host Nigeria, Central African Republic (CAF), Rwanda, Mali, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire to determine who join Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia at China 2019.
You might be asking what have Cameroon to do with Group F if they concluded their Group E World Cup Qualifiers campaign two months ago?
You're right, the Cameroonians won't be playing anymore in this qualifiers after finishing in third-place of Group E with a 7-5 record (19 points), the same as Egypt.
Thanks to a better goal-differential and a huge victory over their Group E's main rival Egypt in the final day of their qualifiers last December, Cameroon got a step closer to the China 2019 showpiece and might qualify as the best third-placed team in Africa.
However, Cameroon would only qualify if their direct contenders - Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Central African Republic - fail to meet certain marks.
The Cameroonians would secure a spot in the World Cup if the third-placed team in Group F has a worse record than 7-5 or a worse point differential than +78.
Currently sitting in second place of Group E with 16 points and an encouraging 7-2 record, Senegal are on the pole position and need one more win to snatch one of the two tickets for China. If Senegal win one of their three games, then Cameroon will look at how CAF and Cote d'Ivoire respond.
Both CAF and Cote d'Ivoire share 13 points each as a result of a 4-5 mark with three games remaining.
Cameroon at the World Cup
Since the implementation of FIBA's new competition system in November 2017, two more African countries (making it a total of 5 countries) will feature at the World Cup for the first-time ever.
The closest scenario Cameroon have been to a world stage competition was the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2008 in Athens, Greece.
However, defeats to Puerto Rico and Croatia ended their aspirations of playing at a world competition.
Cameroon team during the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2008
Key player: Jeremy Nzeulie
Although Benoit Mbala, Arnaud Adala Moto and Kenneth Kadji proved crucial throughout the entire qualifiers process, team captain Nzeulie emerged as the heart and soul of the team.
As one of the two players - along with Felix Bogmis - who played all 12 games for Cameroon, Nzeulie experienced sorrow, frustration and joy across the year-long qualifiers.
With averages of 12 points and almost three assists per game, the Strasbourg guard led by example.
Even when Cameroon had their backs against the wall heading to the decisive last three games of Group E, the 1.91m (6ft3in) guard never backed down.
Nzeulie, who turns 28 on February 15, stepped up when Cameroon needed him most, finishing with his national team career-high 30 points in a much-needed 80-60 win over Egypt.
"I did everything I could, even if we had lost, I would say 'I did my best', and that's what we did. That's the reason why I am proud of my team," he said in the aftermath of Cameroon's remarkable win over Egypt.
He continued: "We had this dream [qualifying for the world cup] in November 2017 [start of the qualifiers]. And we've put ourselves in a good position to go to China.
"For me, Cameroon is one of the best basketball teams in Africa. We could have beaten Tunisia in Tunisia and also in Yaounde. We could have beaten Angola also, but we made too many mistakes."
Expert Opinion (Julio Chitunda)
Cameroon could easily have been qualified by now. They were given several chances to be in a comfortable position during the qualifiers, instead they committed many avoidable mistakes.
The Cameroonians are the only ones responsible for being in the uncertainty position they are now.
From the top of my mind, I could pick Cameroon's three, four or five unforgivable mistakes in crunch time, which led to defeats against Tunisia, Egypt and Angola. You can rewatch footage of those games on FIBA Youtube channel.
Nevertheless, looking thoroughly at the four teams (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal) still in contention for the last two tickets for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, and considering the tough times they have been through in the qualifiers, Cameroon deserve a spot in China, but their destiny is now out of their control.
Will Cameroon qualify for China 2019? Considering that Cote d'Ivoire and Central African Republic will have to play Nigeria - who look to close the qualifiers undefeated - Yes, they will, unless, CAF and Cote d'Ivoire come up with some incredible performances.
If they do qualify for the World Cup, Cameroon Basketball Federation has to give players and coaching staff the means to help them become a more consistent team in China.
Some pray for Cameroon to qualify in hope of seeing some of their NBA players - Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah a Moute and Pascal Siakam - as well a few of College players like UNLV standout Jonathan Tchamwa come on board for the World Cup. I prefer to believe that the team they used in the qualifiers just needs time, an adequate planning and resources to improve as a team.
Then, the celebration that started in Luanda could spread to the streets of Douala and Yaounde.