ALICANTE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Mali international Boubacar Sidibe feels his country has a huge opportunity to secure one of the five African tickets for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.
The teams that finish in the top-three of the group will then move on to the 12-team second-round of the African Qualifiers in a bid to secure one of the five tickets for African teams for China 2019.
While Mali rank among the top 10 teams on the continent, they are yet to feature at a FIBA Basketball World Cup.
But this is about to change says Sidibe, who averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds at AfroBasket 2017.
"As a basketball country, I must admit that this is our best chance to qualify for the World Cup," the 6ft 9in (2.06m) power forward noted. "It's going to be tough to play those teams, especially Nigeria. We played them last September [at AfroBasket 2017], they are a good team but our supporters are ready to play the sixth-man role."
"If all our best players come together, we can beat any team in Bamako. It's going to be crazy, I can't wait to see our supporters cheer us on next month. I am always ready to represent my country," said the man who made his debut with Mali's senior team as a 19-year-old at FIBA AfroBasket 2013 and hasn't missed a major tournament since.
"I have watched some games online. My good friend Gullit Mukendi (DR Congo) was playing, so I made sure to tune in. But it was great to see local supporters celebrating African basketball as we have never seen before."
Aside from the expected support of home supporters, what else keeps Sidibe motivated for the African Qualifiers?
"Qualifying for China 2019 would be a unique experience for Mali," he replied. "We didn't have our full-strength team at AfroBasket . Yet, we beat Congo and Cote d'Ivoire. After the game against Cote d'Ivoire, we celebrated enthusiastically because we thought we had qualified to the Quarter-Finals, but instead, Congo went through."
"We were disappointed about that result [a 2-1 record] but now we have a chance to bounce back and give our supporters something to cheer about."