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Hosts Egypt send 9,000 fans home happy after U19 opener
CAIRO (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - Joy, pride and relief were the main features on the faces of Egyptian players, coaches and staff - not to mention the fantastic crowd of 9,000 fans - after the hosts opened their FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 with a 67-65 win over Puerto Rico.
"This is an amazing feeling. It was our goal to win this game. Now we want to win more games," Egyptian captain Omar Farag said after the victory at Cairo Stadium Indoor Halls Complex - a game which was attended by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. "It's such a pleasure to make the fans happy. We came to make them happy. I'm glad we could do that."
The FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 is the first FIBA world youth men's event to take place on African soil.
"It is one of the happiest days in my life in basketball because I always wanted to have a FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Egypt. It means a lot to me and everyone here," local organizing committee's event director Mohamed Abdel-Motaleb said.
"We told all the players to please make all the people of Egypt go home and sleep happy. A lot of people are facing a very severe economical situation and a lot of people are suffering. We just wanted to put a smile on their faces. Basketball gave them that tonight. We wanted to make everybody in the country happy and thanks to our national team we did," added Abdel-Motaleb, who is also on FIBA's Competitions Commission.
Still, this is just the beginning of the tournament as Egypt take on Lithuania on the second day of games in Group B.
"That is not it. We still have a lot to do," Abdel-Motaleb said.
While the joy was clear to see on his face directly after the game, relief was just as big an emotion for Egypt coach Juan Orenga, who was hired to push the country's basketball program forward.
"For us, this game was very tough, very difficult because it was the first game. There was the opening ceremony, the team never played in front of so many people," Orenga said. "Our road to try to do something and go to the final eight was to beat Puerto Rico. Next is Lithuania. Lithuania is another league. Then Germany, which is a very strong team. The one opportunity to not cross with France (in the Round of 16) was to beat Puerto Rico. That is what we wanted."
Orenga emphasized again how important this victory was for the hosts.
"This is very important for the team, for the federation, for the country. To win this game in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup and control the game like we did, it was very important because that shows the world that we are improving. If we keep working we can again be at the top of Africa," Orenga added.
For one night, Egypt and basketball in the country felt like they were on the top of the world.