17 October 2012

ACC : ACC supremacy at stake

SHEFFIELD (Júlio Chitunda’s African Message) - If Angolan Inter Clube de Luanda or Nigerian First Bank are to become some of the greatest African women’s clubs they will have to play better than they did in the recent African Champions Clubs Cup (ACC) qualifiers.
Last week in Maputo, Mozambique, Inter Clube lost to Angolan arch-rivals Primeiro D’Agosto before they stumbled to Mozambique’s Liga Muçulmana, although they finished runners-up and qualified for this week’s ACC.
In the Liberian capital of Monrovia, First Bank did not do much better as they lost, first to Nigerian rivals First Deepwater, then to Ivorian Abidjan Basket Club (ABC) in the zone 3 qualifier, before they accepted a wild-card invitation to take part in the tournament.
Both Inter Clube and First Bank enjoy two ACC titles apiece, and are the only teams, at this year’s tournament, able to equal Senegalese club DUC as the most successful club with three African titles.
Nevertheless, not a single Senegalese club is competing in this week’s tournament.
Only ten months have passed since Inter Clube lifted their second ACC title in a row after a convincing 81-55 victory in Lagos, Nigeria, over home team First Bank, and they are back in the spotlight again.
This time the ACC champions will be arriving in Abidjan under serious scrutiny, as “underdogs even, as Inter Club’s forward Tierra Henderson prefers to describe the team’s current moment.
Inter Clube’s defeat to Muçulmana should not be disregarded by other contenders.
Most Muçulmana’s players signed from former ACC two-time winners Desportivo de Maputo (2007 and 2008), and the team is made up by a significant number of Mozambique Women’s National Team players, including 2011 Afrobasket leading rebounder Leia Tania Dongue, and the tournament leader in assists Deolinda Ngulela among others.
In addition, Muçulmana are led by Mozambique women’s team head coach Nazir Salé.
Muçulmana may have realistic chances to battle for gold in Abidjan should former WNBA 39-year-old Clarisse Machanguana agree terms with Muçulmana as reported.
Meanwhile, hosts Club Sportif Abidjan and local rivals Abidjan Basketball Club (ABC) ought to be taken into consideration for the podium places' battle although, historically, no Ivory Coast club has ever won an ACC title.
As hosts, Ivorian club Stade D’ Abidjan finished third in 1987 and their counterparts ABC did not do any better by finishing third at the 2001 Abidjan contest.
Since the ACC became an annual event in 2005, podium places have been shared between Nigerian, Ivorian, Mozambican and Angolan clubs.
Two Angolan teams claimed gold in three occasions while Mozambican Desportivo de Maputo lifted the trophy in 2007 and 2008. Nigerian First Bank (2009) and Malian Djoliba (2005) won once.
There's no doubt that Inter Clube de Luanda and First Bank are the target that opponents will seek to beat, especially the former, not only because they are the defending champions, but because the Angolans became Africa's dominant force in recent years, and their famous star American-born Danielle Green has been named MVP on three occasions (2009, 2010 and 2011).
The negative side of African international tournaments are regular last minute withdrawals. But this year ACC saw four clubs receiving wildcards, including Tunisian Club Sportif Sfax, Nigerian First Bank, Gabonese N’Della and the ACC 2006 winner Angolan Primeiro D’Agosto.
On other hand, Kenyan KPA finished second behind Eagle Wings in Africa zone 5 qualifier, but they withdrew for sponsor reasons leaving fellow Kenyan Eagle Wings to make the trip to Abidjan.
“The girls were devastated but we have talked to them as a team and we are determined to shift our attention to the league,” KPA coach Anthony Ojukwu told michezoafrika.com
This celebration of African women’s competition does not include zone 2 nor do zone 7 teams, while zone 3 is the most represented with four teams, followed by zone 4 and 6 with three teams each.
Arc-en-ciel and RADI are expected to represent DR Congo.
I asked Rwanda international Tierra Henderson about her Inter Clube’s chances in the tournament:
“I do not think we are favoured to win because we lost two games in Mozambique but I think we are in a great place, the underdogs,” she said.
“When you are number one you always have a target on you and so everyone plays their best game against you.
“I still believe we can win and make it a 3-peat. I believe this year at the African Championship the competition will be very tough, but that is the only way I want it to be,” she explained.
Should all twelve teams attend the tournament, it will be a significant mark for African women’s basketball.
The nine-day showdown starts on Friday 19 October at the Palais des Sports de Treichville, Abidjan, with twelve clubs representing eight nations.
Júlio Chitunda

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