MAPUTO - (Afrobasket Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - Four months ago, Mozambique missed out on qualification to the London Olympics, but last week they bolstered their chances of becoming an African powerhouse when two local teams forced Angolan giants to finish runners-up at the African Clubs champions (ACC) qualifier, held in Maputo.
In June, at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women (OQTW) in the Turkish capital of Ankara, Mozambique saw their Olympic hopes evaporate after losing to Korea and Croatia.
Both A Politécnica and Liga Muçulmana, the clubs which provide Mozambique women’s national team with most of its players - accounting for 11 of the 12 - elevated the country’s hope of success, after wins over African giants Inter de Luanda and Primeiro D’Agosto, two teams that similarly constitute the backbone of Angola women’s national side.
Liga Muçulmana and African champions Inter de Luanda finished in the top-two places and secured places in the Final Round of the ACC, which will be held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast from 19 to 28 October.
D’Agosto finished third, despite a loss to fourth-placed A Politécnica.
The result is an encouraging mark for Mozambicans who will be tested when they host the 2013 Afrobasket.
Although they recognise the implications of playing at home, Leia Dongue and Ana Flavia De Azinheira, two Mozambique internationals, are adamant that they want to make it to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women which will be held in Turkey.
Only the winners and runners-up at Afrobasket Women 2013 will qualify for the Turkey showdown with Angola, the winners of last year's African continental championship looking to be in pole position.
“No doubt that the responsibility is bigger, but I am sure our fans are going to play a key role for our team,” 21-year-old Dongue told FIBA.com.
The reason Mozambique want to return to Turkey, according to Dongue - who plays for Liga Muçulmana - is because the opposition they faced in Ankara was not much different from what her national team performed.
“Looking at the stats, I have to say that we are not too far from the top teams in the world, as I initially thought,” she said.
Historically, Mozambicans have not been fortunate as Afrobasket hosts, as they finished runner-up in 1986 and 2003.
“Playing in front of our fans is a huge matter because they love basketball and we can’t disappoint them,” A Politécnica’s Azinheira explained, adding that they will need to play with a lot of determination.
“First we need to focus on how important this tournament is for us even though we know that other African teams have the same objective to qualify to the world championship."
She went on: “All I can assure is that Mozambique will play to finish in top position.”
In Ankara, Azinheira came off the bench on Day 1 of the OQTW to contribute 10 points and two rebounds in an 84-62 defeat to Croatia. She averaged 6 points per contest.
The Mozambicans lost their second game to the Koreans, 71-65.
“It was a great experience for us as a team. Personally I had already participated at a junior world championship in Russia, and the atmosphere is exactly the same with high quality," Azinheira recalled.
“All we need is regularity at international tournaments.
“We were unfortunate to lose that game against Korea, but we know we could have done better.
“The more international tournaments we play the better for our young players who are becoming stronger,” said the 35-year-old.
Should Mozambique qualify to the world championship it will their first appearance.