The stage is set for the first leg second phase of the FIBA World Cup African qualifiers in Lagos.
While Group F teams will converge in Lagos, Group E teams will be in Stade, Tunisia for the qualifiers.
The teams that finish in the first two places of Groups E and F, followed by the best third-placed team in the two groups, will represent Africa at next year’s 32-nation FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.
And D’Tigers, Nigeria’s senior men’s basketball team, as they are called, who have won all their six games of the qualifiers and top Group F with 12 points, look menancing after their last training at the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium, Lagos on Thursday.
They want to pick one of the two tickets for the World Cup this weekkend, thereby making the second leg of the qualifiers in February 2019 a mere formality. D’Tigers will qualify if they win their three games this weekend. “It is a feat that is achievable,” says Coach Alex Nwora. “But we have to work for it. We cannot afford to underrate any team.”
To achieve this feat, Nwora has probably assembled the best squad in the history of D’Tigers. At his behest are five members of the team that won the Afrobasket for the first time three years ago. The Aminu brothers Al Farouq and Alade, Stanley Okoye, Ben Uzoh and Ike Diogu last played together at FIBA AfroBasket 2015, where they defeated Angola in the final and entered the history books of Nigerian basketball.
Diogu, the team captain, Ben Uzoh, Jeleel Akindele and Bryant Mbamalu – a quartet that has featured in all of the six World Cup Qualifiers – are joined by an array of stars that includes Ikenna Iroegbu, Ayodele Akindele, Obinna Emenago, Ike Nwamu and Christopher Obekpa.
Nwora selected only 12 players because there was no time to have too many players in camp as some of them arrived on Wednesday, just two days to the competition based on the time of their release by their clubs.
Despite having only one training session for the 12 players, Nwora believes that “experience is strength.
“Many of them have played at the highest level of basketball, the Olympics, African Championships. They’ve been playing together for a long time. They understand African basketball,” Nwora said on Thursday.”
The team manager, Musa Adamu, while assessing the the team, said, “We have 12 good players, interchangeable, people of the same level, though with different talents. We have experience players which the young ones can count on. Players such as Diogu, Akindele, Alfarouq Aminu and Ben Uzoh have played in the NBA and the Olympics and were members of the 2015 winning team.”
Diogu also harps on the team’s experience as a factor that would see them through. “This is probable the best group assembled. We are happy to be playing before the home fans. Our family members will watch us.”
Nigeria will tipoff against Cote d’ Ivoire this evening before playing Central African Republic on Saturday while their last group game will be against second placed Senegal on Sunday. Third in the group, Cote d’ Ivoire have assembled their best squad since 2011.
D’Tigers certainly will be the team to beat. As host, they are favoured to win. Perharps D’Tigers toughest opponent will be Senegal, a team that has caused them some tough times in recent years.
But Adamu, D’Tigers manager, thinks otherwise.
“All the three teams will cause us problems. We cannot afford to underrate any of the three teams. Doing so will be to our own peril,” Adamu, who is based in Abidjan, said.
“This is Cote d’ Ivoire’s best squad since the qualifiers began. We cannot afford to underrate them. It is going to be a tough game, same goes for Senegal.”
Nwora also toed the same path. “We have to work hard. I can’t guarantee we will win all our three games. But we plan to win the three, but we have to work hard. We have a lot of work to do.”
Diogu did not also believe that D’Tigers will just go there and pick the win. “We can guarantee that we will win but we have to do our best; we cannot afford to underrate any team, we will just try and win,” he said.