DAKAR (Senegal) – Senegal have won a record 12 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket titles which is more than half of the editions that have taken place and four of those trophies have been won on home soil.
If this does not spell dominance and absolute class then nothing else will ever do when it comes to women’s basketball in Africa. The Lionesses define greatness and once again, they come into the 2019 edition as the outright favourites to lift the coveted trophy.
Playing at home will definitely give the Lionesses the much needed boost to conquer in the business end of the tournament.
Not that they would not achieve this away from home as they have normally done but there is something about the Senegalese band of drummers with their colourful flags that fill the players with the national pride to defend their backyard.
2017 placing: 2nd
Major talking point: The home advantage is a song in this scenario and no one else has used it to their advantage as much as Senegal. Playing in front of their family and friends at the newly constructed Dakar Arena, nothing short of gold medals and a trophy will appease the very passionate Senegalese fans and the basketball gods for that matter.
Following a 12th place finish and a first victory against European opposition for an African team at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 in Spain, Senegal have amassed massive experience over the past year and have shown so already in the ongoing Tournoi International Dakar ahead of the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2019.
With Cheikh Sarr at the helm of this squad, one can only imagine the level of efficiency that will be demanded of the players.
The Lionesses have to avoid complacency in order to avoid being caught off guard as Mali did back in 2007 in Dakar – the last time Senegal were hosts of this tournament.
Absentees: Sarr has made some drastic changes in his squad leaving out 2015 MVP Aya Traore, point guard Oumou Khairy Thiam, Aminata Fall and the upcoming centre Aicha Sidibe.
Head-to-head dating back to 1977: 6-0 against Egypt. Senegal has never lost to the North Africans since their first meeting in 1977 with the Lionesses winning 88-56 and have since defeated Egypt six times.
8-0 against Cote d’Ivoire. Senegal won 124-47 in their first tie back in 1977 and have since won a consecutive seven times.
Key Players: Astou Traore, Mame Diodio Diouf and Yacine Diop
The bottom line: After losing to Nigeria in the final two years ago, Senegal want to return to the top and they will do everything possible to make this happen.
With a very experienced squad and playing at home, only they will be to blame if they do fail to retain their title and they know it very well.
2017 placing: 7th
Major talking point: Although Egypt last won the African title in 1968 having also won the inaugural edition two years earlier, they are not a team to be taken for granted. With them, anything can happen. They are fighters and never give up.
Their motto for long has been – to play their hearts out and bleed red for their nation and they will be going on about this when they take to the court in Dakar this weekend. They have built a young and dynamic squad that has come through the ranks from U16 through to U18 and will be looking to make even bigger steps this year.
If they want to be the best in Africa, they know that their dream to be the best means beating Senegal at home and the opportunity has presented itself at the right time.
Head-to-head dating back to 1977: 0-6 against Senegal, 2-3 against Cote d’Ivoire
Key Players: Soraya Deghady, Noor Talaat and Awad Menatalla
The bottom line: A fine balance between youthful sparkle and ambitions describes this Egyptian side and their ability to run the floor and twist the game to their own advantage and at their own tempo will go a long way towards helping them achieve their targets.
They have to be able to go past the first hurdle which is qualify out of the Group Phase and make it to the Quarter-Finals and from their fight for a place in the Semi-Finals. They will need to learn a lot from the 2017 edition where they struggled against physical sides that had better size than them in the paint. Nevertheless, their back court is well armoured with guards that destroy any field from behind the arc.
2017 placing: 5th
Major talking point: Cote d’Ivoire have come so close in recent years that they need to finally break that Semi-Final jinx that has eluded them at the last four editions.
In 2009, they made it to the final four losing to Senegal 75-54 and now a more difficult terrain presents an opportunity to beat the very best if they want to achieve high table status.
They are a very physical side just like all West African teams and with the experience this particular group of players has amassed over the last decade, it is about time. Their fighting spirit will take them places at this year’s edition.
Head-to-head dating back to 1977: 0-8 against Senegal, 3-2 against Egypt
Key players: Kani Kouyate, Kariata Diaby and Mariam Gnanou
Bottom line: Cote d’Ivoire have assembled a team that harmonises experience, class and hunger for success. They are coming to the party to force their way into the top sides on the continent and disrupt the status quo.
A Top Six finish means that they will qualify for a place in the Tokyo 2020 pre-qualifying tournament which to them is a priority going forward. This will motivate them to do everything possible to go past the Group Phase which is the first hurdle.