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"We want to do something exceptional in China'' says Cote d'Ivoire's Diabate
ABIDJAN (Cote d’Ivoire) - On a nerve-racking night when "Les Elephants" of Cote d’Ivoire needed a leader to spur them to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 qualification, Souleyman Diabate rose up to the occasion with an impeccable display.
Playing against a very resilient Malian side, Diabate brought his experience to the floor netting in a game-high 16 points with a rebound and an assist, buoying the home team to a 69-49 win.
As result, Cote d'Ivoire will be making their fourth FIBA Basketball World Cup appearance.
“It was a very difficult night. There was pressure on the team and we needed to stay calm. I’ve played in some of these top tournaments and I know what it means. I’m glad I was able to contribute to the win,” Diabate told FIBA.basketball.
“We have a good team and the other players did their job well. Mali looked like they were going to bounce back in the game but we were able to stay calm and finish the job,” the 31-year-old added.
Cote d’Ivoire ended the last window of the African Qualifiers with three wins in as many games. But their resilience and courage was forged in the fires of several hardships.
"We had a difficult time preparing for this window. We kept motivating ourselves, knowing that we could do it. The organization around the team wasn’t proper but we fought for this qualification and we’re proud of ourselves,” the point guard confided.
“The team created a Whatsapp group and everyday we’ll talk to ourselves about how it was possible for us to go through. Obviously the odds were against us playing a very good Nigeria team. That was the most important game for us and the moment we won it, all our doubts went away. We won with a good margin and that boosted our morale.
We knew that if we could beat Nigeria, then we could overpower Mali and Rwanda and that’s what happened. It’s a special night for us,” the Cocody native explained.
Currently playing for Nancy in the French second tier (LNB Pro B), the 1.86m (6ft 1in) point guard will be competing in the global bonanza for the second time after a first experience in 2010 in Turkey.
And he knows exactly what needs to be done for a successful display in the China 2019 showpiece.
“The World Cup isn’t the qualifiers, we need to play some good teams and prepare well. We just don’t want to go there for the sake of it, we want to do something exceptional in China.”
Cote d’Ivoire alongside Angola, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal will represent Africa at the 2019 World Cup in China slated for 31 August-15 September.