ABIDJAN (FIBA Basketball World Qualifiers) - Cote d'Ivoire head coach Hugues Occansey feels his team will do everything in its power to reach the second round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers.
Occansey, who played for France's national team in the 1980s and 1990s before turning his hand to coaching, looks forward to the challenge Cote d'Ivoire are set to embark on.
"We are happy to be one of the 16 African nations to compete in the World Cup Qualifiers. This is a good opportunity for us to get closer to our fans throughout Qualifiers and I really want to congratulate FIBA for this great initiative."
It's been over four years since Cote d'Ivoire last played a major tournament on home soil, as the country staged FIBA AfroBasket back in 2013. Occansey would like nothing better than to give local supporters an opportunity to relive a magical atmosphere like the one displayed on that occasion.
As hosts of FIBA Africa's premier competition, Ivorian fans not only sold out the Palais des Sports de Treichville each time the "Elephants" stepped out onto the court but they also celebrated the game of basketball with choreographed dances, traditional chants and an impressive spirit of fair play after Cote d'Ivoire fell short to Angola in the Semi-Finals.
As part of FIBA's new calendar and over a four-year cycle from 2017 through 2021, national teams will play regular official games to qualify for the China 2019 and the FIBA Continental Cups 2021 starting in November.
It is not lost on Occansey what it would mean for Cote d'Ivoire to reach the second round of Qualifiers for China 2019.
"It would be great to play official games at home. For us as coaches, every (Qualifiers) window is an opportunity to give our talented players based around the world the chance to represent the national team. That was not possible under the previous system."
In order to advance to the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers, Cote d'Ivoire would need to finish in the top-three of Group D, which includes Senegal, Mozambique and the Central African Republic.
"WE ARE HAPPY TO BE ONE OF THE 16 AFRICAN NATIONS TO COMPETE IN THE WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS. THIS IS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO GET CLOSER TO OUR FANS THROUGHOUT QUALIFIERS AND I REALLY WANT TO CONGRATULATE FIBA FOR THIS GREAT INITIATIVE." Occansey
While Cote d'Ivoire hosted the second round of FIBA Africa Zone 3 Qualifiers for the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 against Benin and Burkina Faso, there is nothing like the prospect of taking on the continent's powerhouses in Abidjan.
"IT WOULD BE GREAT TO PLAY OFFICIAL GAMES AT HOME. FOR US AS COACHES, EVERY (QUALIFIERS) WINDOW IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE OUR TALENTED PLAYERS BASED AROUND THE WORLD THE CHANCE TO REPRESENT THE NATIONAL TEAM. THAT WAS NOT POSSIBLE UNDER THE PREVIOUS SYSTEM." Occansey
The "Elephants" last played at the FIBA Basketball World Cup seven years ago in Turkey, where they defeated Puerto Rico to return home with a 1-4 record.