SHEFFIELD (Olympics) - African champions Angola accept they are among the underdogs heading into the London Games.
After all, it will be the first Olympic experience for the women’s team and very hard games await them.
Over the weekend, the side got an idea of what the competition is going to be like at the Game On tournament in Sheffield, England, where they fell to Great Britain (74-57), France (79-51) and Australia (70-46).
Despite the losses, Angola’s confidence has not wavered.
“Four years ago none expected us to win a game,” said Angola’s Afrobasket 2011 MVP Nacissela Mauricio said to FIBA.com.
She was referring to the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Madrid.
“Eventually we beat Argentina and many people were shocked,” she said.
Angola won that game against Argentina, 59-58, but then lost its Quarter-Final.
Nevertheless, the experience in Madrid was a good one.
Angela Cardoso, Nacissela, Nadir Manuel, Sonia Guadalupe and Astrida Vicente were in the 2008 squad and are still in the team.
“We are a confident team,” Nacissela said.
“Surprises may happen again in London if we play as hard as we know how.”
Need to improve
Mauricio does admit she and her teammates need to start playing better.
Angola shot a total of 28% from the floor in the three Sheffield games and also averaged 14 turnovers.
“After this tournament, I must admit that we need to make some offensive adjustments,” she said.
“We lost all games in Sheffield because we were a bit inconsistent. We need to improve our shooting.
“We cannot play at this level and have such a low shooting percentage. Often we defend well, but we don’t capitalize on offense.
“Against teams of high quality, we cannot afford such mistakes.
“Against Australia, we closed the gap to 12 points, but because of some distractions they stretched the lead to 20 points.
“These are aspects of our game we definitely must improve.”
Angola are in Group A of the Olympics along with the United States, China, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Croatia.
They start their Olympic campaign on 28 July against the Turks before taking on Olympic champions Team USA two days later.
‘Nothing to lose, everything to gain’
There is no substitute for experience at the highest level of international basketball and this puts Angola’s women at a distinct disadvantage.
“Compared to our opponents at the Olympics, we lack international experience,” Nacissela said.
“But it is encouraging to play against the Team USA, as they are players that we only see on the TV. So, we have a chance to show them what we are capable of doing.
“We have nothing to lose. Instead, we have much more to win.”
Taking on world-class opponents like Australia in the build-up should serve Angola well.
“These (friendly) games help us reduce any pressure or fear,” Nacissela said.
“These games help us raise our self-esteem.
“We just have to enjoy all these great moments.
“We are living a dream. There is no reason not to be well.
“Of course we are not used to this level of competition, but because we know each so well, I think our spirit of togetherness will evolve when we need it the most.”
In 2008, Raul Duarte was at the helm of Angola but now, it’s Anibal Moreira.
His success rate in big tournaments is excellent because last year in Mali, he steered the team to its first Afrobasket Women title.
Asked about the team’s morale, Nacissela said: “We are strong and ready to face the challenge.
“It is a new reality that we are looking forward to. It won’t be easy facing such good teams, but we will stand for Angola and Africa.
“We are well aware that we are not jus representing Angola, but we will carry the African flag to London. This is a heavy responsibility on our shoulders.”
Chances do not come along like this for many players.
It may be Nacissela’s only opportunity to go to an Olympics.
“I am not sure how many more years I will play,” she said.
“The future belongs to God.
“I will keep helping Angola to play as long as my fitness allows me to.”
Nigeria's fans played an important role in their country’s successful qualification at the men’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, earlier this month.
Nacissela says she and her teammates could use some backing, too.
“We hope to have some support from the African community in London as it’s encouraging to know that there is someone outside supporting us,” she said.
“It is important to know that we are not alone.”