SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - As the annual FIBA Africa Champions Cup enters the Final Phase in Cairo, Egypt, one thing has become evident: There will a new champion this year.
There will be a new continental champion not only because last year’s FIBA ACC winners Petro de Luanda failed to qualify for the Cairo showpiece, but, more importantly, because the traditional title contenders (mainly the Angolan teams) have struggled throughout the Group Phase.
As I write this column on Monday 12 November 2016, Primeiro D’Agosto - the most successful FIBA ACC team with eight continental titles - can’t help but losing game after game. They seem to have ruled themselves out of contention.
Although they opened their Group A games with an 86-78 win over Cameroon champions Nzui-Manto, D’Agosto lost two straight to tournament hosts El Ahly, before giving in an 18-point lead to end up losing 83-79 to Kano Pillars of Nigeria.
Coincidently or not, D’Agosto lost two of their Group B games without two key players Emmanuel Quezada (last year’s FIBA ACC MVP) and Tariq Kirksay, who have reportedly experienced health issues in Cairo.
But for a team of D'Agosto calibre - filled with a number of Angolan internationals - the absence of Quezada and Kirksay shouldn’t be an excuse for such inconsistency.
The other title contender Recreativo do Libolo look slightly more competitive than local rivals D’Agosto, but an 84-83 loss to Morocco’s Association Sportive de Sale raised more questions than answers, especially because the FIBA ACC 2014 winners never really coped with the Moroccan’s speed and athleticism.
In my latest column, I suggested that El Ahly, Club Africain and Libolo could finish on the podium on Friday 16 December.
A week has passed, and from those three teams, I have to admit that the champions of Egypt and Tunisia are more likely to succeed because both teams are playing excellent and convincing basketball.
Just take a look at how El Ahly needed extra five minutes to overcome Club Africain in what was - in my opinion - the best game of the tournament so far.
It would have been a spectacular publicity for African basketball if teams play at the level of El Ahly and Club Africain.
At least that’s the impression taken from FIBA Youtube Chanel’s viewership. In less than 24 hours, the Club Africain v Nzui Manto game, for instance, registered over 12,000 views.
Perhaps the best example of Club Africain’s competitiveness happened in Sunday’s 79-77 victory over Nzui-Manto. Having trailed by as many as 15 points in the final quarter, the Tunisians used a 19-4 run to close out the game.
With all that being said, I also must admit that the way Algeria's GS Petroliers and AS Sale of Morocco have played so far, these two can’t be overlooked.
The Moroccans are expected to add experienced point guard Mustapha Khalfi during the Final Phase, showing how seriously they are taking the Cairo showpiece.
The Algerians, who ended AS Sale’s three-game winning streak, have been great, but moving beyond the Quarter-Final seems to ask too much.
So, unless a twist of events happens, El Ahly, Club Africain and AS Sale or Libolo will finish on the FIBA Africa Champions Cup 2016’s podium.