The Nigeria national men’s basketball team, D’Tigers, will, on Friday night at the 3,500 capacity Palais des Sports Treichville in Abidjan, resume their qualification quest for next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup.
D’Tigers have their work well cut out as they will start out against the host, Cote d’Ivoire, who, lately, have been in incredible form. Friday’s clash will be the third between both teams in recent times.
Even though each team has one victory so far in historical head-to-head clashes, the D’Tigers will need to be at their best to defeat the Elephants.
While D’Tigers have been strengthened by Mike Brown’s return to lead the team after his absence during the previous window, Cote d’Ivoire also have a great reason to be happy and confident.
Boost for Elephants
Souleyman Diabate’s arrival in camp has boosted the Ivorian team’s chances in the crucial Window 4. Diabate sat out the last qualifying round. At 35, he is arguably the Elephants’ most experienced player, and he is confident Cote d’Ivoire will extend their winning streak against Nigeria on Friday.
He told FIBA ahead of the Group E games he was back to the team for good. “While I was away, I trusted that my colleagues to do the job, and they did not disappoint. Nigeria is our first game and surely going to be the hardest, but I am confident that we have a great team and I trust they will be up to the task.”
Though Diabate admits Nigeria has a talented group of players, he is banking on the remarkable form of Cote d’Ivoire that has seen them winning almost all their games in the last two years to overpower D’Tigers.
“We are ready mentally and otherwise. I am sure we will give a good account of ourselves against Nigeria, playing good defence and always finding a way to score,” the Ivorian star added.
Cote d’Ivoire have won their six games in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, conceding fewer than 75 points in each of those games. In fact, they have won their last 11 games in the African Qualifiers – the longest winning sequence of any team in all regions in the competition. However, their last defeat came against Nigeria, in September 2018 (73-84).
Now or Never for D’Tigers
D’Tigers have been slow starters as they have lost the opening game in each of the three last qualifying windows in the African qualifiers. That explains why they are lagging in the race for tickets to the World Cup. Coach Brown is aware of this ugly trend and he is keen to arrest it, which is clear in the quality players he has invited for this window.
Josh Okogie of the Phoenix Suns, Miye Oni of the Utah Jazz, and Ike Nwamu of Russia’s BC Samara have all returned for the D’Tigers.
Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings, who was a member of the team during the final phase of the qualifiers in Rwanda, is among those in the running, as is Michael Gbinije (Oklahoma City Blue, NBA G League).
Currently fourth in Group E behind Cote d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, and Angola and ahead of Uganda and Guinea. D’Tigers are not in a comfortable place at all.
Olympian Chimezie Metu admitted this much in an exclusive interview with FIBA. “Our mindset is we have to win the rest of our games,” the Sacramento Kings forward declared. Although Metu calls Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea “three really good teams”, he insists the D’Tigers have what it takes. “To get ourselves the best chance we can’t afford to slip up if we want to make it to the World Cup next summer.
“Given our situation, these are three very big games for us. We have guys that are well battle-tested and understand the situation.
“We’ll be ready and prepared to face these teams. Ivory Coast is undefeated and are playing at home. It makes it even harder. We just have to come out focused and bring our best game,” he added.
D’Tigers will face Guinea the day after their opening game against Cote d’Ivoire on Friday and then battle Angola on Sunday, 28 August.
The 2023 World Cup will be held in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines from 25 August to 10 September and Africa will be represented by five teams.
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