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Cote d'Ivoire prove doubters wrong, head to World Cup 2019
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Cote d'Ivoire have just achieved what very few believed possible.
When most expected for Cameroon to become the fifth African country to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, Cote d'Ivoire proved them (including myself) wrong because their players and coaching staff always believed they had a chance of their lives.
Against all the odds, the 'Elephants' of Cote d'Ivoire played as we had never seen before in the African Qualifiers, and the result was astonishing: A 7-5 record and goal-differential that left Cameroonians wondering what had just happened.
Beating Mali and Rwanda in the last two of window 6 of the African Qualifiers held in front of their home fans was somehow predictable, however, trouncing Nigeria the way they did (72-46) was unimaginable not only because the Nigerians headed to Abidjan with a convincing and comfortable 9-0 record, and repeatedly expressed their intentions of closing the African Qualifier undefeated.
Nigeria's intention didn't work out mainly because the Ivorians retransformed their game in a short period of time when they needed it most.
As well as successfully doubling their three-point shooting, Cote d'Ivoire played terrific aggressive defence, forcing Nigeria to a 1 for 22 from the three-point line, were desperate and fought for every ball possession as if there was no tomorrow.
Cote d'Ivoire's win over Nigeria - after six straight defeats (warm-up games not included) dating back to the Qualifiers of the 2009 FIBA AfroBasket - had a major morale booster for the remainder of the 3-day second-leg of Group F.
The Nigerians had scored more points per game than any other African team (99.1) and were the only team to have a Field Goal percentage of more than 50 percent (51.7%). On the other hand, Cote d’Ivoire had made ONLY 5.4 three-pointers per game before the last three games of qualifiers, (less than any other Group F team), but all those numbers and figures seemed a thing of the past last week.
Cote d'Ivoire outscored Nigeria, Mali and Rwanda by an average of 24 points, made almost 11 three-points per game, felt no pressure, and the result was a ticket to China.
When I was recently asked if Cote d'Ivoire would qualify for the World Cup 2019, my answer was: "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."
Even Nigeria captain Ike Diogu who believes they are far better than Cote d'Ivoire paid tribute to their opponents.
Diogu said:" “If I am being honest, do I think that Ivory Coast is a better team than us? NO. If we play them twenty times out of twenty, we’d beat them twenty times out of twenty, but unfortunately that’s why the game is played. It only takes us one night to be off, they played well, hats off to them."
So, Cameroon who finished in third in Group E, were seen as the prime favourites to secure Africa's best third-placed team from across Groups E and F, but the 'Elephants' of Cote d'Ivoire reminded everyone that tenacity, determination and self-belief can change lives.
Cote d'Ivoire point guard Souleyman Diabate later explained where they got so much energy from to qualify for the China 2019 showpiece: "We kept motivating ourselves, knowing that we could do it. The organization around the team wasn’t perfect but we fought for this qualification and we’re proud of ourselves," he revealed.
Cote d'Ivoire became the latest African country to qualify for China, joining Angola, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.
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