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FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers
Central African Republic (CAF) players are looking at the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers as an opportunity to give their fans something to cheer about.
So much so early last week, players, coaching staff, and the country’s basketball federation agreed on a preparation plan that will see head coach Ulrich Marida open a training camp this week in the capital Bangui.
A Dossier gathered by Sofia Van De Broeck -LNC
According to the federation, the first phase of the preparation will comprise of locally-based players while foreign-based players will join next month in Sousse, Tunisia, where the former African champions will resume their preparation before heading to Maputo, Mozambique.
While the likes of Max Kouguere, William Kossangue and Jimmy Djimrabaye – CAF’s most influential trio who ply their trades in France – are expected to join the preparations in mid-February in Sousse, Tunisia, head coach Ulrich Marida has called up a group of players led by Kenzo Kamayengue, Rodrigue Stephane Bereke, Francky Mbombo and Morel Lenguewane.
Kamayengue, Bereke, Mbombo, and Lenguewane have proven vital to CAF during the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 Qualifiers although they missed out the Finals last September.
From February 23-25, CAF will go up against hosts Mozambique, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire in the first-leg of Group D of the World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers.
26-27 février: Back Home (France, CAR, USA,..)
CAF finished with a 1-2 record at FIBA AfroBasket 2017, and as a result, failed to qualify for the Quarter-Finals.
“We can’t wait to get started in the Qualifiers and give our compatriots a reason to stay positive as our country has been through social unrest for the past few years,” Kossangue explained.
A key member of the Central African national team, Kossangue, who averaged 8.7 points and almost two assists at FIBA AfroBasket 2017, insists that the team’s morale is high, and they will do everything they can to finish in the first three places of group D, which will ensure a place in the 12-team second-round of the qualifiers.
“When the national team calls me, I am always ready to represent my country. I have been talking to my national team colleagues and everybody is excited about this new challenge. The last AfroBasket didn’t play out the way we wanted, now it’s different because preparations are going according to plan so far. And, we may have a couple of new players too,” said Kossangue, who plays for Stade Vanves in France’s National 2 League.
“WE WANT TO QUALIFY FOR THE WORLD CUP  BECAUSE WE WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW THAT WE ARE A BASKETBALL-LOVING COUNTRY, AND WE CAN COMPETE AGAINST THE BEST NATIONS”
Under FIBA’s New Competition System, Africa will be represented by five nations in the 32-FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.
And, Kossangue is adamant that they are on a mission: “We want to qualify for the World Cup  because we want the world to know that we are a basketball-loving country, and we can compete against the best nations.”
Meanwhile, Max Kouguere – the team’s leading scorer at FIBA AfroBasket 2017 (14 points per game) – believes CAF’s new generation has the means to re-write the country’s basketball history.
“Our team has been playing together for some time now, and we feel that we can make it to China,” he said.
Although the Central African Republic have once competed at the Olympics (1988), they did not to play at FIBA Basketball World Cup since their last participation in 1974.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers are not just about basketball for Johan Grebongo. The Central African Republic power forward is also hoping he and the team can get victories in this month’s window to help give something back to the people at home.
The ultimate goal for Grebongo and Central African Republic would be to make a second trip to the World Cup after last playing there in 1974.
“What I think when I am told that we have not participated in the World Cup since 1974 is very simple, that we have a chance to participate a second time and even more,” said Grebongo, who has played at four FIBA AfroBaskets – his first coming in 2011 when he was 17 years old.
“We have a difficult group, but we are going to Mozambique to take this chance to reach the second qualifying round of the World Cup,” he said.
The 6ft 9in (2.06m) big man, who plies his trade with French side AS Saint Maurice Pfastatt is aware of the task above them. “To succeed we must imperatively play to our qualities and arrive as real conquerors,” he pointed out.
The Bangui native thinks the team gained some lessons from the FIBA AfroBasket 2017, where they lost to Morocco, beat Uganda and were beaten by Angola.
“We learned a lot at FIBA AfroBasket 2017. We needed to be better prepared and have reserves play about four or five minutes to give more time to rest some top players when they are tired,” Grebongo said.
Even though he has been with the national team since 2011, the 23-year-old Grebongo still considers himself one of the youngsters in terms of leadership in the team.
“THE KEY TO OUR QUALIFICATION FOR THE SECOND ROUND IS OUR SOLIDARITY AND OUR DETERMINATION. WE ARE NOT ONLY PLAYING TO WIN BUT TO GIVE SMILES BACK TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN SUFFERING FOR OVER FIVE YEARS”
“The road is still long to be an undisputed leader,” he admits. “I know that my role in this team is very important. I have to make the transition from the new generation to the old one. I must convey the true values of the national team to the new players. That’s why I’m always listening to my elders like Max [Kouguere], Mike [Mokongo], William [Kossangue] and Jimmy [Djimrabaye]. And I am always learning from their actions even though they rely on me very much.”
The whole group of CAF players will need to perform at the highest possible level if the team wants to reach the second stage of Qualifiers.
“The key to our qualification for the second round is our solidarity and our determination. We are not only playing to win but to give smiles back to a people who have been suffering for over five years,” Grebongo said.
“Reaching the World Cup would be a great satisfaction for a whole nation that is in search of joy, happiness, peace and social cohesion because through the sport, we can realize these wonders.”