|Dates: 22 September – 1 October Venue: Sydney, Australia|
Mali will have to punch above their weight at the 2022 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia after replacing African champions Nigeria.
The West Africans had failed to reach the global showpiece after losing all their games in a qualifying tournament held in Serbia in February.
However, the 2007 continental champions gained entry to their second World Cup following Nigeria’s withdrawal from the international game in June.
“When we heard that we were going to the World Cup, everyone was excited. It’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved with the team,” said point guard Touty Gandega.
“For us, the veteran players, this could be the only World Cup we get to play in. We are super-excited to be here in Australia to represent Mali.”
Mali’s first World Cup appearance in 2010 saw them winless in their first four games, but the side ultimately finished 15th after edging Senegal 69-67 in overtime.
France-born Gandega was not part of the squad 12 years ago, where her older sister Diana starred.
But Gandega, who plays in the French Ligue 2 for Les Felines Aulnoye, believes the current squad boasts a blend which has the potential to rattle opponents.
“I like this team because we have a lot of young players and we have four veterans. The more experienced players know how to control the flow of the game,” the 31-year-old told the game’s governing body Fiba.
“We know when to play slowly and read the game well. The young players bring their energy in defence and will run hard at the opposition.”
Led by Spanish coach Joaquin Brizuela, the Malians will face hosts Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Serbia in Group B.
Gandega, who has two AfroBasket bronze medals with Mali, is aware of the challenges ahead but remain confident they can leave a mark in Sydney when they begin their campaign against Japan on Thursday.
“We have never faced Japan, but we know they are a team that shoots three-pointers well,” she said.
“Our strength as the Malian team is to play hard on defence. Every team we play against, we will put our energy in defending well because these teams have quality players that play in good leagues.
“We have to invest our energy in playing good defence.”
After their opener Mali will face Australia on Friday ahead of games against France, Serbia and Canada on consecutive days from Sunday.
Only one African side has reached the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals, with Nigeria doing so last time out in 2018.
The 12-nation tournament, where holders USA go for a fourth successive title, runs from 22 September to 1 October.