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Salah Mejri (TUN) - Tunisia v Nigeria - 2012 London Olympic Games
AfroBasket - Africa's finest take aim at Spain 2014

ABIDJAN (AfroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - The number of African players plying their trade in Europe and the USA has increased astonishingly in the past few years and a great number of them will show what they can do for their national teams at AfroBasket 2013, a qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

The 16-team tournament, divided in four groups, tips off on Tuesday in Cote d'Ivoire's capital city of Abidjan.

Players come from the most prestigious basketball leagues in the world including the NBA, Spain's ACB, France's Ligue National de Basket, the Greek League, China's CBA and a lot more bring their USA college experience.

Since the FIBA Basketball World Cup increased the numbers of teams from 16 to 24 in 2006, Africa gained one more place and the top three African teams secure direct qualification to the event.

Intriguingly, the number of potential world cup contenders has doubled with Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire on the frontlines.

In Group A, hosts Cote d'Ivoire will take on Egypt, Senegal and Algeria.

Defending champions Tunisia are in Group B alongside AfroBasket debutants Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Morocco.

Angola are in Group C alongside Mozambique, Central African Republic and Cape Verde.

In Group D, Nigeria will square off against Cameroon, Mali and Republic of Congo.

Two years ago, Tunisia stunned Angola in the Final of the AfroBasket in Madagascar to claim their first continental title ever.

This year, head coach Adel Tlatli made public his team's intention to successfully defend their crown, although getting on the podium would be a big enough indication of the growth of Tunisia's basketball programme.

With the likes of Makram Ben Romdhane and Real Madrid's new recruit Salah Mejri in their roster, Tunisia could prevail.

Although Nigeria will be competing with a revamped team from the one that came in third two years ago, they kept half of the team that stunned Greece at the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and went on to play at the London Games.

Head coach Ayodele Bakare selected a team that includes only one home-based player (Stanley Gumut) and they clearly are among the favourites to take one of the three spots on offer for Spain 2014.

Competing in the AfroBasket will be a new experience for all Nigerians other than Olumide Oyodeji, Chamberlain Oguchi and Gumut.

London Olympian Ike Diogu insisted the team want to win gold, but they want to take it one game at a time.

"We don't want to overlook anybody," he warned. "This is a tough tournament with a lot of great teams. Our goal is to make history."

The Angolans won lots of admirers over the course of the past two decades, and they are the continent's most successful team having won 10 African championships.

Four of their players - Joaquim Gomes, Armando Costa, Eduardo Mingas and Carlos Morais - have each won three AfroBasket titles.

Traditionally, in African basketball, hosts tend to do well, and Cote d'Ivoire might live up to this tradition.

The return of new Sacramento Kings recruit Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, added to the presence of both Gaston Essengue and Christian Bayang and the AfroBasket experience of head coach Lazare Adingono, make Cameroon a genuine title contender.

In recent years, Senegal became famous for having quality big men. But this might be the year when they make the most of quality point guards, including Louis Adams who plays in the American collegiate ranks at South Carolina State University.

Egypt's head coach Amr Aboul-Kheir said last week that their AfroBasket preparations have been affected by the current political turmoil in the country. But they can count on a talented team that dominated the African youth scene of the past six years.

The Republic of Congo might be the surprising team as they bring an exciting Europe-based group of players led by Giovan Oniangue and Nobel Bongou-Colo.

Cape Verde will not have Ivan Almeida who pulled out the team, but experienced players like Rodrigo Mascarenhas and Mario Correia are poised to give them give some pedigree and make an impact in Group C.


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