CAIRO (FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2016) - Egypt head into the FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2016 under serious pressure as defending champions and ready for a "war" with Mali and Angola according to Ahmed Khalaf.
The star center will need to play an excellent tournament if Egypt want to repeat their title and capture their fourth FIBA Africa U18 crown in the last five editions. In fact, Khalaf said Egypt are under major pressure to hoist the trophy again.
Khalaf will be playing his first FIBA Africa U18 event but has already appeared in three youth World Championships - the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship, 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship and the recent 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship. And the Giza native also won the title at the 2015 FIBA Africa U16 Championship.
But it was the 2.06m center's appearance at the 2016 U17 Worlds in Zaragoza which will be fresh on his mind going into the FIBA Africa U18 Championship, which will run from 22-31 July in Rwanda.
"They [Mali and Angola] are very good teams and we will be in a war." – Khalaf
Also on the U18 roster are Esam Mostafa, Tarek Raafat, Mohamed Ramadan and Mohamed Youssef, who took on the champions United States, finalists Turkey and third place finishers Lithuania in Zaragoza.
"We faced the best teams in the world and I wish we could have played better against them because we are trying to be better."
But Khalaf believes taking on those teams will help him in Rwanda, saying: "I have to trust myself and my team and to endure everything."
And the center knows Mali and Angola will really be after Egypt in this championship.
Egypt have already secured a spot at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship as they are hosting the tournament in Cairo. That means three African teams will play at the U19 Worlds for the first time. But that will not stop Egypt from giving everything they can in Kigali.
"Hosting the U19 Worlds is motivation to win in Rwanda," Khalaf said. "We are going to win the championship because we are a good team."
But expect a "war"-like battle in Rwanda.