RADES (Africa Champions Cup) - Tunisian side Etoile Sportive Rades and Royal Army Force (FAR) Rabat of Morocco claimed the only two spots on offer for Africa Zone 1 clubs, for the 2015 Africa Champions Cup (ACC), last week in Rades, Tunisia.
While the Tunisians, who finished runners-up at 2014 ACC, closed out their campaign undefeated in four games to win the qualifier, the Moroccans faced an epic battle in the last day of competition to secure a place in this year’s ACC, which will run from 10-20 December in Luanda, Angola.
CA who dominated Tunisia basketball league last winning every competition, were somehow subdued by the Moroccans.
Looking at the start-studded CA roster as well as the home-court advantage factor, the result was considered an upset considering that CA count with Tunisian internationals, four of whom featured at AfroBasket 2015 last August.
Meanwhile, veteran point guard Mustapha Khalfi showed grip and leadership when they FAR Rabat needed him most.
Khalfi, who lived an agonising 69-68 defeat to Tunisia in the Round of 16 of AfroBasket 2015, scored six of his game-high 17 points from behind to help FAR Rabat qualify for the ACC for the very first time.
If all goes according to plan, Morocco will be presented at ACC for the first time since 2012 when AS Sale finished third as hosts of the tournament.
“It wasn’t an easy game at all,” Khalfi told FIBA.com.
“They have a good point guard (Kyle Vinales), who is very hard to defend.
“For me the difference was our defense and fast-break. We knew that Club African have experienced Tunisian players, so we had to be focused and avoid turn the ball over.
“Our coach kept telling us that small teams can beat big teams with team spirit and heart.”
Club Africain led 68-60 in the final five minutes of the game, but Labib Hamraoui’s team never gave in.
And in a turn of events when CA appeared in control of the contest, Khalfi and Co came out of nowhere, causing the biggest upset in the qualifier.
“Back in Morocco few believed we would be able to beat Club African,” Khalfi recalled.
As result ES Rades and FAR Rabat join Gezira (Egypt), ASCUT (Madagascar), Mozambique champions Desportivo de Maputo and a trio of Angolan teams Petro de Luanda, ACC reigning champions Libolo and hosts Primeiro D’Agosto.
“We are going to Angola to honour our country and club,” Khalfi said.
FAR Rabat, which is playing in Morocco topflight for its third year of existence, has a young team, and until the ACC tips off, they will need to keep busy as the national championship is yet to be confirmed.
According to Khalfi, FAR Rabat travelled to Tunis just to play their, and that made them strong because they had no pressure.
Tunisian Amin Rzig who contributed 11 points in the ES Rades’ win over Al Nasr in the final dau, said: “Surely we are going to Angola to play for the title. We have good team.”
2015 African Champions Cup Zone 1 Final Standings:
1. Etoile Sportive Rades (4-0)
2. FAR Rabat (3-1)
3. Club Africain (2-2)
4. Al Ittihad (1-3)
5. Al Nasr Benghazi (0-4)