Saturday, June 12, 2021

The FIBA African Women’s Basketball Club Championship – My story – Part 2


tiamin rice

First Bank players celebrating their bronze medal after beating Primiero Agosto in the third place game at the FIBA Africa Women Champions Cup.

The Championship ended last Sunday. The Nigerian representatives, First Bank Basketball Club, are already back in the country.

Many people across the African continent followed the championship on television and must have watched on Supersports how the Elephant Girls of Nigeria, particularly at the very end, in their very last game, shattered the myth of the superiority of Angolan female basketball, and broke the erroneous jinx of the invincibility of the Angolans in female basketball against Nigerian clubs.

It is ‘erroneous’ because its been such a long time (13 years to be precise) that in winning the African championship title for the very first time First Bank defeated Primeiro de Agosto, an Angolan club and this year’s defending champions, in the finals. That was in 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique, a pulsating, nail-biting, nerve wrecking and dramatic final that ended 55-54. People have forgotten!

Indeed, since then, no Nigerian female club had won a single match again against an Angolan club. That’s why the victory of First Bank last Sunday afternoon in Maputo (again) against Primeiro de Agosto (again) in the third-place match was very significant. It broke a 13-year ‘jinx’.

After my report on the championship last weekend, this is just to fill the rest of the gaps till the end.

The Elephant Girls played against FAP Yaounde, a physically intimidating Cameroonian club, in one of the quarter final matches and won.

The argument that three of the girls in FAP Yaounde were part of the national squad that had defeated the national female team of Nigeria at the Afrobasketball championships in Yaoundé, Cameroon, only a few months before did not hold any water.

On the night, the match was really an anti-climax. The Cameroonians collapsed and the Nigerian girls made mincemeat of them.

The anticipated mountain became an ordinary mound on the ground

It was a sweet revenge for the three Nigerian girls in First Bank that were also in that defeated Nigerian national team in Yaoundé in 2015.

Following that victory, First Bank found itself once again at the semi-finals, the plateau that Nigerian teams have not found a way to rise above in several previous editions.

That’s where they usually met and were halted by either one of the two Angolan clubs that were turning winning of the championship almost into a birthright! In the last 6 editions of the championship Interclube had won four times and Primeiro, the defending champions, once. Both clubs were again in the semi-finals in Maputo!

The fourth team in the semi-finals in addition to First Bank were the hosts, Ferroviario de Maputo, a team that was playing well up to that point with the help of a massive home support.

Semi-finals –the real battles!
In the first semi-final match, Interclube de Luanda once again dealt Nigeria a bitter blow. They technically blew the champion female team of Nigeria apart, elongating the ‘myth’ of Angolan superiority.

Between Wale Aboderin, the great Chairman of Dolphins Club of Nigeria who came from Nigeria to watch the entire championship from start to finish (even though his team was missed at the event) and I, it was a period of sober reflection over the state of Nigerian female basketball as we sat together and watched the Nigerian girls clinically defeated by a team that played with ‘arrogant’ confidence.

For us, sitting through that agonising match was a painful lamentation of Nigeria’s technical deficit in the game. We were wondering what more needed to be done to bridge the yawning gap between the standard of Angola in particular and the rest of the continent.

In the second semi-final match it was not expected that Ferroviario would fall at any stage earlier than the final match, and they did not disappoint. In a well-fought match against the defending Champions, Primeiro, they played like girls possessed – pressing hard, running non-stop, chasing and physically contesting for every ball every inch and second of the way to the final buzzer – against the more experienced, bigger and stronger Angolan girls.

The pressure by the Mozambicans was so unrelenting that no one was surprised that the Angolans capitulated in the end and eventually lost. The defeat left Primeiro de Agosto so broken that when they eventually had to meet First Bank again, this time in the decisive battle for the Bronze medal position the following day.

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