CAIRO (Egypt) – Unbeaten in three games so far at the ongoing FIBA U18 African Championship, hosts Egypt are in incredible form after beating Mali 77-61 in their last Group Phase encounter on Sunday.
As has been the case so far, Egypt got out of the blocks faster than their opponents leading the first quarter 16-11. Mali head coach Alhadji Dicko seemed to regret the decision to not start his captain Mohamed Sidibe on the floor.
However, after his introduction, he turned things around for Mali who outscored Egypt in the second quarter 21-16 to tie the game at 32 at the half time break.
Omar Genena tries to go past Bourama Coulibaly
In the third quarter, Egypt ran the floor building from their man-to-man defense to force turnovers and converting on the other end of the court. Mali panicked and before they knew it, the Egyptians were leading 57-44.
Their body language told of fear – the kind that weakens the core of the team but Sidibe led his troops and emphasized the importance of fighting for national pride at a stage like this one even when it is tough to play the hosts that are in familiar territory.
The last quarter was better for the Malians but their efforts were not enough to stop a relentless Egyptian side that was unstoppable on both sides of the court.
On a day that Egypt coach Mohamed Mounir Youssef decided to “rest” his best playmaker Mohab Abdalatif and limit his playing time to just 26:49 as compared to 32:49 against Guinea and 31:34 against Senegal, power forward Mohamed Elmansy came off the bench to score 17 points and record seven rebounds.
Abdalatif contributed 15 points and eight assists while Abdullah Ahmed added 16 points and 12 rebounds to inspire their team to a hard-fought victory.
Elmansy was in fine form for Egypt on Sunday night
Reigning champions Mali find themselves between a rock and a hard place after losing all their three games and are low on confidence with their head coach Alhadji Dicko visibly speechless after the full time whistle.
For a man who dominated world headlines exactly 17 months ago after Mali stunned defending champions Canada in the Semi-Finals to qualify for the Final at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019, this feeling after a loss was painful.
That the same teenagers who were inspired by Mali’s performance in Greece were on the other side of the court celebrating victory against them brought back so much regret to him that it will either make or break him and his team going forward.
Dicko cut a lonely figure after the full time whistle
For the West Africans, this is unfamiliar territory. They have finished on the podium in the past three editions and as a result feared to be a powerhouse but respect for former champions has been absent at this tournament.
Dicko has expressed utter shock at his team’s performance and admitted that the rest day on Monday could not have come at a better time. His team need to go back to the drawing board and re-strategize for the knockout phase of this competition.