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Road to China 2019 - Can Cote d'Ivoire qualify for first World Cup since 2010?
ABIDJAN (Cote d'Ivoire) - Two last FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 tickets are still up for grabs in Africa, but the question everyone can't stop asking is who will get them?
Who - among Central African Republic (CAF), Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire or Cameroon - will join Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia to China?
In the build-up to the last window of the World Cup African Qualifiers, FIBA.basketball focus on Cote d'Ivoire and breaks down their chances of returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2010.
From February 22-24, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mali, Senegal, Central African Republic and hosts Cote d'Ivoire will do battle for Group F's last action.
The 'Elephants' share the third place of the group with CAF with 13 points, which resulted from four wins in nine games each.
However, for Cote d'Ivoire to become one of the five African countries for the 32-team FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, they need to do the math.
Surely, they may have done the calculations by now, and it looks somehow challenging but as Cote d'Ivoire head coach Paolo Povia likes to say, qualifying to China is not impossible.
The Ivorians would secure a spot in the World Cup as the second-placed team in Group F if they win their last three games and Senegal lose their last three games.
They can also qualify as the best-ranked third-placed team from across Groups E and F if they win their last three games with a combined margin of at least 65 or 66 points, depending on the number of points scored (65 if they score over 294 points, 66 points if they score under 294).
Cote d'Ivoire at the World Cup
It's been almost nine years since Cote d'Ivoire last appeared at the World Cup in Turkey where they won one of their five games. Back then, the West African failed to advance to the Second Round by a whisker as they needed to beat Puerto Rico by eleven points or more in the last Group Phase game. An 88-79 win over the Puerto Ricans wasn't good enough.
However, defeats to Turkey, Russia, Greece and China caused in more damage as explained by Pape-Philippe Amagou.
Twenty-four years earlier, Cote d'Ivoire made their World Cup debut in Spain where they lost all five games.
Key players: Diabate, Edi and Fofana
Cote d'Ivoire will be showing up in Abidjan with an experienced roster. Thirty-one year-old Souleyman Diabate has been the 'Elephants' prime leader on and off the court. He has averaged 9 points and a team-high 5 assists in nine games.
It's from Diabate's skillset that the Ivorians will seek to deny Nigeria, Mali and Rwanda.
And although Diabate, has been crucial throughout the World Cup qualifier process, Guy Edi and Vafessa Fofana have equally made a tremendous difference for the former African champions averaging a combining 10.5 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Expert opinion (Julio Chitunda)
This World Cup qualifiers series turns out to be a special occasion for Cote d'Ivoire basketball, not only because the country is set to host a major tournament for the first time in six years, but especially because this could be the last time most members of this team play for the national team on home soil.
Cote d'Ivoire players and coaching staff - all dismiss being under pressure for playing in front of their home fans and have the obligation to punch a ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. That's the positive feeling they must transmit to local fans who probably still remember the disappointment of finishing fourth as hosts of the FIBA AfroBasket 2013.
The similarities between the African Championship almost six years ago and next week's qualifiers exist and should be taken in consideration by the entire Cote d'Ivoire team. Back then, there were three spots up for grabs for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain.
And after beating Algeria, Senegal (in the Group Phase), Egypt, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, the Ivorians collapsed in the Semi-Finals to eventual champions Angola. To make matters worse Cote d'Ivoire fell short to Senegal in the Third-Place game.
More than half of the team from 2013 will be part of the squad next week, and therefore they should know better the significance of winning all three games.
And the game against Nigeria on Friday 22 February will probably be the most important one for Cote d'Ivoire's World Cup aspirations.
Will they qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2010?
Even though I believe they can win all three games, my feelings and passion for Cote d'Ivoire as whole says YES, but my mind says NO.