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MLI - Senegal not backing down
BAMAKO (Afrobasket Women 2011) - The battles are about to be waged in Africa for a spot in the women's basketball tournament at next year's London Games.
Hosts of Afrobasket Women 2011, which tips off on Friday, Mali fans will remember that their team has a recent history of success in the competition.
They won it four years ago, beating hosts Senegal in the title game, to reach the Beijing Games.
In 2009, though, Senegal gained revenge by beating Mali in the Afrobasket championship game.
So while Mali have the benefit of the home crowd, the Senegalese like their own chances.
"We are the team to beat so be careful not to put too much focus only on the team of Mali," Senegal coach Moustapha Gaye said.
"It is true that Malian women will play at home, they will be very dangerous, but they will not be the only opponents of the Lionesses..."
Senegal face Nigeria, a team that played at the 2004 Olympics, in their first Group B game on Friday while Mali start against Ghana in Group A.
In all, 12 teams are in the hunt for London.
In Group A, Mali will also meet Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Tunisia.
Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Rwanda and Guinea are in Group B.
Angola finished third four years ago and had some impressive moments at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Madrid but failed to claim one of the five places on offer for Beijing.
The leading scorer in that Angola side, Nachissela Maurício, will be with the national team again in Mali.
Success for the Angola women would be invited back home where basketball fans are reeling from the men's setback at the Afrobasket in Madagascar.
The Angolan men finished runners-up and missed out on London.
Angola's women recently claimed a silver medal at the All Africa Games in Mozambique.
The Angolan minister of Youth and Sports, Gonçalves Muandumba, said this week: "I know Afrobasket 2011 will not be easy, as it a more demanding competition, with a high competitive level.
"But you, during this your time of preparation, showed that you are capable of reaching the top."
Angola's first opponents on Friday in Group B are Cameroon.
Other Preliminary Round clashes on the first day see Congo v Ivory Coast and Mozambique v Tunisia in Group A, and Rwanda v Guinea in Group B