Four-time African champions, D’Tigress are set again to test their skills, resilience and strengths against world’s best teams at the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to begin on 23rd of July and 8th of August, 2021 after its initial postponement due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The draw, which was conducted on Tuesday morning at the Patrick Baumann House of Basketball in Mies, Switzerland, pitted the 2003 All Africa Games winners, D’Tigress against Olympics defending champions USA, France and hosts Japan in Group B, while D’Tigers will also slug it out with Australia and two other yet to qualify teams in the men’s basketball event.
In a shift from the norm, the format of the tournament has changed. Where there used to be two groups of six teams, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with basketball’s governing body, FIBA, there will now be three groups of four teams.
The USA women’s team is the top-ranked team in the world; France is ranked fifth, and Japan is 10th on the ranking table with the Nigerian team in 14th place.
Going down the memory lane, Nigeria had the first appearance at the Olympics in 2004. The team dunked off losing all the preliminary games to Australia, Russia, Brazil, Greece and Japan. However, they defeated Korea for a final finish of 11th out of 12 teams to become the first women’s African basketball team to win a game at the Olympics.
Meanwhile, the team failed to qualify for 2008, 2012 and 2016 editions before returning for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
In the same vein, Nigeria qualified for the FIBA World Cup for the first time in 2006 exiting the competition at the bottom of the table. Prior to their exit, the team was grouped against United States, Russia and China.
Similarly, the team did not qualify for the 2010 and 2014 editions but returned to the stage again in 2018 as the 2017 AfroBasket champions and were paired against Australia, Turkey and Argentina.
Nigeria qualified for the next round after placing second in the group but was eliminated at the quarter-finals, placing 8th on the table after narrowly losing their last match 73-72 to Canada.
The team, however, made history to become the first African team to reach the quarterfinals in tournament history.
D’Tigress made history when it defeated Turkey 74-68, earning its first win in tournament history and continued its historic run in a nail-biting 57-56 win over Greece after defeating Argentina 75-70.
D’Tigress and the US are familiar foes, with the Americans expectedly overcoming the Nigerians. They beat the African champions 79-46 and 71-40 at the 2006 and 2018 FIBA World Cups.
They also overcame the Nigerians at last year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, where they triumphed 76-71, despite a spirited performance by the Nigerians.
D’Tigress lost 84-62 to France in a classification game at the 2018 World Cup, but have had no previous meeting against the Japanese.
Expectedly, fears and concerns have been raised by basketball fans over the chances of Nigeria making it out of the tough group when the competition dunks off.
According to the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the federation is focused on preparing the teams well for the challenges ahead in their quest to make Nigerians proud.
The Federation President, Engr Musa Kida said all the 12 teams at the Olympics have a reasonable chance of winning the tournament, hence there are no minnows.
“Nothing good can be handed to you on a platter of gold. You have to work hard and be ready to seize the opportunity when it comes because to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
He believes a lot can still happen between now and when the game’s tip-off capable of upsetting bookmakers predictions and the fate of teams.
“We have to be focused on what we have to do as a federation with the help of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Sports to ensure we adequately prepare the team, get the right personnel for the challenges ahead,” he said in a statement.
In the same vein, the head coach of the senior women’s team, Otis Hughley described the USA and world number five- France as familiar foes.
“We met USA and France at the last World Cup in Spain and again faced the USA at the Olympics Qualifying Tournament in Serbia last year where we qualified for the Olympics.”
Otis who led the team to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup thereby setting an African record before winning the 2019 FIBA Afrobasket championship noted that “We are mindful of the threat these teams pose to us including Japan who are ranked 10th in the FIBA ranking. We are going to prepare adequately to ensure that when the time comes, we will be ready.”
In a chat with a member of the coaching crew, Samson Sotuminu is confident that D’Tigress will qualify from the group.
“It is a very strong and tough group but I believe Nigeria will qualify from that group. In Serbia, we played against the Americans and lost some points. What I know about our team is that they are committed and this time around, I’m not sure the US will take it lightly with us and at the same time, we are ready for them,” he said.
In the same vein, Chairman/CEO of Air Warriors, Abduldumajeed Solademi is optimistic the team will put a strong performance and will qualify from the group as well.
“I believe we will spring a surprise. Right now the girls are training in Atlanta. What has mitigated our progress in the past is poor preparation. The camp is earlier that the past where camping is like 2, 3 weeks to the competition.
“The US may find it difficult to defeat us. If you look at the qualifier we played against them in Serbia, despite the poor session of training were able to put up a strong challenge. We will drag with the US. I am not even concerned about France or Japan as I see us qualifying from that group,” he said.