FIBA World Cup preview – Africa bids its farewell as World Cup moves to quarter-finals
By Peter Auf der Heyde
When the quarter-finals at the 18th FIBA Basketball World Cup tip off in China later today, African teams will unfortunately no longer participate.
Although more African teams than ever before – five – participated at the global event, Angola, Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Nigeria (who did secure qualification to the 2020 Olympics though) had lost all chances of advancing to the knock-out stage in the initial group phase.
Instead, the quarter-finals read a bit like Eurobasket, with only the US, Australia and Argentina gate-crashing the European party.
El Alma Argentina, who won the inaugural championship as host in 1950, open up proceedings against two-time champions Serbia in Dongguan in the early match on Tuesday.
Argentina are, of course, without their most famous player Manu Ginóbili, who retired last year after a 23-season professional career, including 16 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
The majority of their players ply their trade at home in Spain while Serbia, on the other hand, have four NBA players in their squad in China.
Both teams advanced to the second round with an unblemished record of three victories, but while Serbia were quite convincingly beaten by Spain in the second round, Argentina advanced to the knockout stage after topping their group following victories against Venezuela and Poland.
In the second game today, Spain, who are led by Marc Gasol, face Poland in Shanghai.
The younger of the successful Gasol brothers, who arrived in China on the back of his first NBA title with the Toronto Raptors, has been in outstanding form throughout the tournament, but aged 34, he knows that his time playing at the highest level is coming to an end.
His 39-year-old brother Pau has been forced to miss the trip to China due to injury and in his absence, another pair of brothers, Juan and Willy Hernangómez have stepped up to the party.
At 23 and 25 respectively, the future belongs to the two NBA players.
Spain coach Sergio Scarilo said after their final group match that the brothers are extremely talented players. “They have needed experience on the court because they are in and out when they play in the NBA.
“To be great like Marc and Pau have been, they need to have concentration and make the right decisions. They need to overcome obstacles when they have bad nights. The World Cup is a great chance for them to prove themselves in bigger roles.”
On Wednesday basketball fans in Dongguan will be treated to a virtual NBA match as France take on Team USA, who are looking for a third successive World Cup title.
In the absence of most of the top US NBA stars, the star attraction in the game will presumably be French center Rudy Gobert, who has a four-year 102 million dollars contract with the Utah Jazz.
The 27-year-old, who won back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2018 and 2019, set up a new single-season record for slum dunks this year, when he managed 306.
The final quarter-final sees Australia take on the Czech Republic in Shanghai with history on the cards for the winner. The Czech Republic have already made their own history by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since being eligible to qualify in 1994.
Australia, on the other hand, although they have been virtually omnipresent since 1970 (missing out only in 2002) have never advanced past the quarter-finals, but will fancy their chances to do so this time around.
For basketball fans throughout Africa, the FIBA World Cup will be brought live and exclusive to their TV screens via the StarTimes sports channels as the leading digital-TV operator in Africa has secured the right to the prestigious competition.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.