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''Coach Palma is motivating us like crazy'' - Tunisia's Ziyed Chennoufi
TUNIS (Tunisia) - Tunisia's Ziyed Chennoufi watched the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 draw hoping to be matched up against his native Germany. Instead the reigning African champions will face Spain, Iran and Puerto Rico in Group C, a challenge he looks forward to.
Born in Germany, Chennoufi represented the European country internationally at youth level before electing to play for the country of his parents in 2011.
"IT'S DEFINITELY NOT THE EASIEST GROUP IN THE TOURNAMENT, BUT OUR GOAL IS TO TRY AND SECURE SECOND PLACE. WE BELIEVE WE CAN DO IT, AND WE'LL DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO ADVANCE TO THE SECOND ROUND."
The 30-year-old's international career was a roller-coaster ride until 2016, when he established himself as a key member for Tunisia.
"I'm really excited as it's going to be my first World Cup," he said to FIBA.basketball. "It's been one of my childhood dreams to play in a competition like the World Cup. I was hoping Tunisia would be drawn against Germany, but unfortunately that didn't happen. It would have been extra especial for me. Hopefully, we can meet in the Second Round or at Tokyo 2020," said the 2.01m (6ft 7in) forward, who last featured for Germany at 2008 U20 European Championship.
Talking about Tunisia's Group C opponents, Chennoufi described Spain as favorites but rated his team as legitimate contenders to secure the second place, and therefore, advance to the Second Round of the tournament.
"We have played Iran before and I can safely say that our game style is very similar to theirs. We know their strongest and weakest points," he said. "We have never played Puerto Rico, but we believe we have a team that can beat them. As for Spain, they are clearly favorites in our group, but this is not to say that we'll hand them the game. On the contrary, we'll compete for everything in the game.
"It's definitely not the easiest group in the tournament, but our goal is to try and secure the second place. We believe we can do it and we'll do everything we can to advance to the Second Round."
"COACH PALMA IS HIGHLY-EXPERIENCED AND SINCE THE END OF THE QUALIFIERS HE KEEPS MOTIVATING US LIKE CRAZY. PERSONALLY I FEEL REALLY MOTIVATED. I FEEL I CAN HELP TUNISIA DO SOMETHING SPECIAL IN CHINA."
The China 2019 showpiece will mark Tunisia's first World Cup appearance since 2010.
"Of course we were disappointed after missing out on Spain 2014, principally as it happened during a period when Tunisia basketball was starting to grow internationally," he explained.
And although Chennoufi was cut from the Tunisian side that went on to lose all of its games at the World Cup in Turkey nine years ago, he has reason to remain confident he can be among the 12 Tunisian players that will take part in the first-ever 32-team edition of FIBA's flagship competition.
During the African Qualifiers, he appeared in 10 games, averaging 6.9 points a game and making his presence felt on the defensive end.
"Coach Palma is highly-experienced and since the end of African Qualifiers, he keeps motivating us like crazy," Chennoufi shared. "Personally, I feel really motivated especially after being cut in 2010 (World Cup) and 2015 (FIBA AfroBasket). I feel I can help Tunisia do something special in China."
For the player currently on the books of Tunisian champions Etoile Sportive Rades, 'something special in China' means delivering a first-ever World Cup win for the country.
FIBA #AfroBasket2017 Champions Tunisia 🏆 🇹🇳 beat all their opponents by an average of 34 points per game during the 1st window of the #FIBAWC 2019 African Qualifiers! 🔥🔥#ThisIsMyHouse pic.twitter.com/YfEkYhDTCF— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) January 25, 2018
"Winning the AfroBasket in 2017 restored our self-confidence and we feel that we can win games in China, and more importantly, we believe we can qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which is our top priority in China," he said.