By Antonis Stroggylakis / email@example.com
Jakarta, Indonesia – Ivory Coast had just registered its second-ever World Cup win by downing Iran to remain in contention for a spot in the next phase of the competition and players were elated on their way to the locker room.
There was one thing though that gave just an extra dose of delight.
“They both won? Oh my God,” a pleasantly stunned and elated Solo Diabate of Ivory Coast told Eurohoops when I informed him about the first-ever victories of South Sudan and Cape Verde on the World Cup stage. You could see that the joy he had from his team’s own win was instantly enhanced. “This is crazy.”
Diabate, a guard who plays in Angola for Petro de Luanda, was kind of the late-game hero for Ivory Coast against Iran, scoring the last five points of his team including the three winning free throws with six seconds to play.
The result of the Ivory Coast – Iran game marked a historic occasion for the World Championship: Three African nations grabbed World Cup wins in a span of a few hours.
“I’m really proud. We’re all really proud,” he said. “Because we show that the African teams are getting better and are ready to compete against the world. It’s really great. Really good for us and African basketball. So people should start to respect us now.”
“Respect” is what Ivory Coast guard Nisre Zouzoua asks for as well. The AMSB (a second-division team in France) player was the leading scorer of Ivory Coast against Iran with 17 points.
When Zouzoua arrived at the mixed zone he went directly to Diabate to applaud him for his impact in crunch time. He wasn’t aware as well that both South Sudan and Cape Verde beat their opponents in the same day.
“That just goes to show that we have a lot of talent. At the end of the day, we want our respect,” Zouzoua said to Eurohoops. “I feel that many people don’t respect African teams. But South Sudan has a great team, Cape Verde has a great team, Angola has a great team.” Angola defeated the Philippines in Manila on Sunday (27/8) to register its own first win in the tournament.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t respect African teams,” Diabate said. “But South Sudan has a great team, Angola has a great team, Cape Verde has a great team. And we have guys who play at the highest level on each of those stages.”
“We’re here to prove that we belong and we’re not just happy to be here,” Zouzoua added.
Zouzoua believes that there’s a bit of a prejudice against African players that they lack skill and fundamentals, relying only on athleticism.
“I just feel like sometimes people see us and just don’t think we know how to play the game the right way,” Zouzoua said. “But we are more than people who are athletic. We have I.Q. players on both sides of the court. We are here to fight and prove that we belong.”
“People don’t know much about African basketball,” Diabate commented. “They should know more. They got to respect more. And the way African teams are starting to win games in the World Cup is really good for us.”
Ivory Coast has a chance to record a first-ever qualification to the World Cup’s second phase if they overcome Brazil on Wednesday (30/8). It’s a “win or go home” situation for both teams since the Brazilian side lost to Spain on Monday.
The Brazilian team is the heavy favorite in the game. They have more experienced players, some of them playing in top leagues in Europe, battle-tested veterans and are considered overall the superior team.
Zouzoua is aware of all these but sends a warning to those who have already ruled out Ivory Coast.
“Keep watching us”
Photo Credit: FIBA.BASKETBALL