26th September, 2011
As the battles continue to wage on in Bamako, Mali for a spot in the women’s basketball tournament at next year’s London Games, the question many lovers of the beautiful game keep asking is if the Ayo Bakare-led team can rise above other nations and win the coveted trophy for the country.
The Nigerian senior women team can boast of an impressive history at the biennial championship having won gold medals at Afrobasket 2003 in Mozambique and 2005 in Nigeria.
They as well won gold at the 8th All Africa Games, hosted in Nigeria in 2003. Coach Ayo Bakare recently led the team to a third place finish at the just concluded All Africa Games in Maputo,Mozambique,which did not go down well with pundits of the game in the country.
Before departing with the team for Bamako,venue of the championship, Coach Bakare promised to return the country to winning ways and restablish Nigeriaâ€™s authority in African basketball and the world in general.
In his words: â€œOur performance in Mozambique was not so impressive, not only to the players and the coaching crew but also to the governing body of the game and our entire fans.
â€œHence we are poised to go out there to make amends by surpassing what we achieved at the Games. And the way to do that is to win the trophy and secure the Olympic ticket available for grab at the championship,â€ Bakare said.
Nigeria finished a distant fifth position at the last edition of the competition. Senegal was the eventual champions as they beat Mali, hosts of this yearâ€™s edition, to participate at the Beijing Games Olympics.
For this edition, the Malians will be banking on home support, while the likes of Nigeria, Senegal and Angola,who recently claimed a silver medal at the All Africa Games in Mozambique, will also be in contention for the title.
“We are the team to beat so be careful not to put too much focus only on Mali,” Senegal coach Moustapha Gaye said.
“It is true that Malian women will play at home, they will be very dangerous, but they will not be the only opponents of the Lionesses,” Gaye declared.
Reflecting on their chances of winning the trophy for the country, veteran member of Dâ€™Tigress, Rashidat Odun Sadiq, who plays professionally in Turkey with Antakya Belediye Basketball Club, said with hardwork and determination on their side, the team can spring surprises at the championship.
â€œ We are going to take every match as it comes and with the help of God, hardwork and determination we are going for the ultimate, which is winning the trophy,â€ she said.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Rwanda,Senegal, and Guinea are in Group B.
Senegal and Angola are book makers’ favourites to win the championship while Nigeria and Mali have been given the outside to spring some surprises.
Angola finished third four years ago and had some impressive moments at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Madrid but failed to claim one of the five places on offer for Beijing.
The leading scorer in that Angola side, Nachissela MaurÃcio, will be with the national team again in Mali.
Success for the Angola women would be welcomed back home where basketball fans are reeling from the men’s setback at the Afrobasket in Madagascar.
The Angolan minister of Youth and Sports, GonÃ§alves Muandumba, said last week: “I know Afrobasket 2011 will not be easy, as it a more demanding competition, with a high competitive level.
“But you, during preparation, showed that you are capable of reaching the top.”
After recording one lost and one victory so far in the tourney, Dâ€™Tigress will have to rise above board and avoid being submerged by the likes of Senegal and Mali for them to bring back the trophy they once captured back to back.