21 August 2012

CAPE VERDE : Almeida brothers lead Cape Verde to Abidjan 2013

Almeida brothers lead Cape Verde to Abidjan 2013
SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - Cape Verdeans tend to regard themselves as perseverant people who never turn their backs when confronted with adversity. On Saturday night they faced a tough test as they were on the brink of missing out on qualification to the 2013 Afrobasket, following a 68-52 loss to Senegal the night before.
Clearly determined to make it to Abidjan (the site of next year's African Championship), the FIBA Africa Zone II Qualifying Tournament hosts prevailed with a 80-63 win over African powerhouse Mali.
Led by Nigerian-born head coach Alex Nwora, Cape Verde finished second in the tournament, behind Senegal. 
Mali and Mauritania finished third and fourth respectively.
Mali, one of the most regular teams at Afrobasket tournaments, miss out on the 2013 edition for the second time since 1985. They failed to qualify in 2003. On the other hand, Senegal confirmed their status as regulars, having not missed an Afrobasket since 1964.
Cape Verde, however, returns to the competition after missing out on last years’ event in Madagascar. 
Trouble for Nwora’s men began early in the Zone II tournament as they were not allowed to use three of their players - Pedro Silva, Jean Claude and Bj Monteiro - for administrative reasons. However, the nine-man squad confirmed their resilience.

Whatever coach Nwora told his team at halftime against Mali as they trailed 28-26, it worked to great effect.

Mario Correia, one of Cape Verde's most experienced players, put his team in the lead with a three-pointer to start the second half before Mali tied the contest at 32.

The packed Vavá Duarte Arena then erupted and the islanders never looked back, despite efforts from Malians Mohamed Tangara, Amadou Kaba and Modibo Niakate.
José Ruiz’s team struggled with their shooting throughout the second half, unlike the first half during which they led by as many as 10 points. 
The hosts began the fourth quarter just as they did the third, with a three-pointer, this time, by Ivan Almeida
If the hosts struggled shooting in the first half, brothers Ivan and Joel Almeida led the Cape Verdean symphony in the second half, with three-pointers that disrupted Mali's attempts to get back into the game.
This Cape Verde team may not be a powerhouse in the continent, but they showed so much potential on Saturday night which may leave opponents quite worried. In my view they may cause trouble in Abidjan next year.

They may arrive in the Ivorian capital with some changes to their roster, should the team’s captain, 32-year-old Rodrigo Mascarenhas decide to retire from the international game as he has suggested. Otherwise he will play his third Afrobasket.  
However, with the likes of the Almeida brothers, Correia, Brian Rudolph and Kevin Coronel, Nwora has every reason to aim high as this is talented team that beat Senegal 82-72 in the first round of this qualifying tournament.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest attractions of the Cape Verde team is 20-year-old big man “Edy” Walter Da Veiga, a 2.20m (7'3") center who currently plays for Spanish second division side La Palma Isla Bonita. He only started playing basketball three years ago but is establishing himself as potent defensive presence for the islanders.
Moreover, Cape Verde enjoy a large migrant community in Abidjan which may play its contribution in next year's tournament. 
As a result of his fine play, Ivan Almeida was named the FIBA Africa zone II Most Valuable Player, ahead of Senegalese Mouhammad Faye.
Ivan and his brother Joel went from anonymity at the 2009 Afrobasket to the frontline this year, in a team that is “going to Ivory Coast to win all games” as Ivan said at the end to Saturday night’s win over Mali. 
This qualification for Abidjan is a new challenge for the country's national basketball federation (Federaçao Caboverdiana de Basquetbol) but even more so for the Cape Verde sport authorities, most of whom attended Saturday's game along with the nation's Prime Minister José Maria Neves.

If the authorities were impressed with what they saw, the federation’s president Kitana Cabral may have motives to sigh.
Since Cape Verde beat African giants Nigeria and Egypt at the 2007 Afrobasket before embarking on an Olympic adventure at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament - squaring off against Dirk Nowitzki’s Germany as well as New Zealand - perhaps it is now time to look at this team not just as a minnow from Africa, but as a giant in the making. Their most recent opponents Mali, Senegal and Mauritania may agree, or not.

Julio Chitunda  FIBA

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