SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - The first-leg of Groups B and D of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers concluded on Sunday, and it's fair to say that Nigeria and Mozambique were the biggest winners.
Although it is too early to say which African teams will advance to the Finals - because there are still another four FIBA qualifying windows until February 2019 - my prediction is that Nigeria will make it to China as they have shown everything a team needs to join the 32 best national teams in the world. If they do, it will be Nigeria's first World Cup appearance since 2006.
Nigeria have had some prolific scorers over the past few years (Chamberlain Oguchi, Al Farouq Aminu and Ade Dagunduro, just to mention a few), but having Michael Efevberha back on the team for the first time since he led Nigeria in scoring at FIBA AfroBasket 2019 was a huge victory for Alex Nwora's side.
Watching Efevberha and Ike Diogu leading the Nigerian offense the way they did in Bamako makes me wonder how could future opponents stop Nigeria if they stick together for the remainder of the African Qualifiers.
On the other hand, Mozambique made the most of the "This is My House" hype.
But this month's African Qualifiers weren't necessarily all about Nigeria and Mozambique.
Individually, a number of players raised to the occasion too.
Uganda's duo of Jimmy Enabu and Robinson Opong sparked Mandy Juruni's team with a staggering 38 points per game.
Although Uganda returned home with a 1-2 mark, Enabu's six three-pointers in seven attempts against Nigeria became one of the highlights in Bamako.
In the absence of team's leading scorer Kouguere - who sat out against Mozambique and Cote d'Ivoire - Destin Damachoua propelled the Central Africans with a much-needed 17 points per game.
Mahamadou Keita may have hit a game-winning three-pointer against Uganda, but Drissa Ballo's impact in the paint set him apart.
The teams that finish in top-three of each group will then advance to the 12-team second-round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com