SYDNEY (Australia) – For Malian point guard Touty Gandega, getting a chance to represent her country at this month’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup is a dream come true.
The 12-nation tournament that will run from September 22 to October 1 in Sydney, Australia will be Mali’s first World Cup appearance since 2010.
Initially, Mali had failed to qualify for the global showpiece after losing all their games in a FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade, Serbia, earlier in the year.
But luck would smile on the Malians as they gained entry to the World Cup following Nigeria’s withdrawal in June.
While the news of Mali’s good fortune was well-received by Gandega and her teammates, the challenge was to be ready in time for the tournament.
“When we heard that we were going to the World Cup, everyone was excited. It’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved with the team. Especially for us, the veteran players, this could be the only World Cup we get to play in. So, we are super excited to be here in Australia to represent Mali,” said Gandega, who was speaking from Australia on Wednesday.
The point guard reflected on some of the difficulties they encountered in preparing for the tournament.
“In the beginning, it was complicated because we did not have all our players in camp. Three or four good players were missing because of certain issues. It was hard because when a new player comes in, they have to catch up with the rest of the team,” said the 31-year-old.
“It was not easy for everybody. When getting ready for the World Cup, there must be a focus, even if one or two players are not with the team, but we know why we are here and we will do everything to be successful. As I speak, only Kankou Coulibaly is not with the team. When she arrives, we will be complete.”
Touty Gandega (far left) was named to the 2019 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket All-Tournament Team
France-born Gandega, who plays in the French Ligue 2 for Les Felines Aulnoye, says the team that will battle for Mali in Australia has a blend of experience and young players.
“I like this team because we have a lot of young players, and we have four veterans. The more experienced players know how to control the flow of the game. We know when to play slowly and read the game well. The young players bring their energy in defence, and will run hard at the opposition,” said Gandega, who has two AfroBasket bronze medals with Mali.
The Malians are in a tough Group B, containing the host nation Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Serbia.
Looking at the quality of opposition in their group, Mali have a mountain to climb, but Gandega says from the opening game against Japan next week (22 September) their focus will be on the things they do well on the court.
“We have never faced Japan, but we know they are a team that shoots three-pointers well. So our strength as the Malian team is to play hard on defence. Every team we play against, we will put our energy in defending well because these teams have quality players that play in good leagues. So we have to invest our energy in playing good defence,” concluded Gandega.
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