Egypt’s under-16 women’s national basketball team lost to Mali in the final of the African Championship 84-48 at the Amahoro Indoor Arena in the Rwandan capital of Kigali with quarters 14-22,7-25,12-21 and 15-16 to come in second but still qualify for the junior World Cup to be held in Romania in June next year.
It was an unprecedented achievement as Egypt has not qualified for the tournament in eight years. Egypt and Mali renewed a rivalry which dates back to the inaugural edition in 2009. In Rwanda, Mali was the team of the championship as it included Mariam Coulibaly, the most valuable player in the event.
Mali was the record five-time African champions. It was the only unbeaten team in this tournament. Egypt was looking to avenge its group phase loss to Mali 88-57.
Coulibaly scored a game-high 30 points, and grabbed seven rebounds and five assists to inspire the West Africans to its now unprecedented record sixth African title.
Her teammate Maimouna Haidara who is also the captain and Djelika Tounkara added 16 points and 14 points in that order.
On the Egyptian team, Lojain Al-Fatairi netted a team-high 19 points and picked up six rebounds while Aya Al-Fiqi collected 12 rebounds and scored 11 points.
Coulibaly was named MVP of the tournament, headlining the All-Star Five as she was joined by Sara Caetano (Angola), Maimouna Haidara (Mali), Malak Sadek (Egypt), and Maria Najjuma (Uganda).
By finishing as the top two teams on the podium, Mali and Egypt secured their tickets to the U-17 Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2020.
Earlier in the day, Angola defeated Mozambique 67-59 in the third-place game.
Al-Fatairi inspired her team to come this far and deservedly so because she has shown absolute class in every game. She is the soul of the Egyptian team, commands respect as a point guard and thinks for the team.
Al-Fiqi is a rising star on the national team. She had just arrived from a one-year exchange programme in the US where she had been playing basketball day and night. “I gained good experience in the US. I am very happy to be part of the Egyptian national team. Our experience in Rwanda was really challenging,” said Al-Fiqi in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “We entered a training camp in Bosnia for a week and we played a number of matches that were up to the level and we were able to overcome the Bosnian national team U-18.” Al-Fiqi added that they wished to win the title but the Malians were a very strong opponent that they were unable to beat. “We did our best but we lost in the end.” Al-Fiqi wishes to change her club, the Forest, to join Egyptian club Ahly and is dreaming of collecting a medal in the coming World Cup. “It is my dream to play well in the World Cup among the top 12 countries from all over the world and try harder to collect a medal for Egypt. We will prepare well for the event and I hope we can do it.”
Egypt’s coach Ali Hashem told the Weekly, “I am very happy with the achievement. All the players did their best and were up to the challenge. They were training very well and they had a fighting spirit that I wish will continue to the World Cup. I am sure the World Cup matches won’t be easy as we will be meeting the top national teams from all over the world but I am confident in my players and I know that they will do their best. We have to prepare these players well because they are the nucleus of the national team.”
Egypt fell in Group B together with Mali and Uganda in addition to South Africa which did not show up. In their inaugural match against Uganda, Egypt won its four quarters with a score of 25-10,17-10, 23-15 and 15-11 to win 80-46. Then it was the time to meet the giants, the Malians who beat Egypt 88-57, with quarters 18-11, 25-11, 27-23 and 18-12.
“It was a very difficult match as the Malians are very tall and very well built. We knew it beforehand that we will face a hard time in front of Mali but we did our best. We did not expect to meet them again in the finals,” Hashem said. “I am very optimistic about this team and I think we will be able to win one or two matches in the World Cup and three or four players will receive professional contracts,” he added.
In the quarterfinals, Egypt overcame Tanzania 88-41 in an almost one-side game with quarters 13-7,29-17,16-11 and 30-6. In the semis Egypt beat Angola 71-50 to cruise to the final.
In the semi-final Farida Youssef and Al-Fatairi posted 18 points each while captain Farida Mossad and Jana Baraka added 12 apiece to inspire Egypt. Mennatullah Al-Gharini picked up an impressive 10 rebounds.
The semi-final victory avenged Egypt’s loss to Angola two years ago 59-42 in Beira, Mozambique, and confirms that Egypt helps run the show in youth girls basketball in Africa.
In the second semi-final, Mali overcame Mozambique 102-25 to annihilate the southern Africans who visibly seemed too scared to compete against the record five-time African champions.