By Ellina Mhlanga
ZIMBABWE’S dream of a second appearance at the AfroBasket Championships later this year went up in smoke over the weekend when they lost to South Africa in a closely-contested two-game basketball play-off in Johannesburg.
Zimbabwe lost the opener 67-74 on Good Friday and won 70-68 in the second game on Saturday.
However, their efforts were not enough to turn the tables in their favour as they needed to win by eight points to proceed to the African Championships scheduled for August in Congo-Brazzaville.
South Africa became the 14th team to qualify for the 16-team tournament.
The remaining two slots for the championships will be awarded through wildcards to complete the 16-team line-up.
Zimbabwe had hoped to return to the African championships after making their maiden appearance in 2015 in Tunisia.
But Basketball Union of Zimbabwe president Addison Chiware believes they still stand a chance of making it to Congo-Brazzaville as they have lobbied for a wildcard entry in pursuit of another dance with the continental tournament.
“We are still hoping for a wildcard given the narrow margin against which we lost against South Africa. They won the first game and we won the second one. We have made some lobbying for a wildcard because of our ranking. The difference was about two-and-a-half basket and we were very close.
“Despite them (South Africa) being at home we managed to beat them (in the other game) so you can imagine if we had played in Zimbabwe we could have won. We are watching the situation closely.
“In terms of the AfroBasket tournament, the other two spots they always look for the best runner-up in the ultimate qualifying round. So I think we have a strong case,” said Chiware.
The neighbouring countries earned the right to the play-offs after finishing the best runners-up in the regional qualifiers held in Harare and Lusaka, Zambia, that saw Mozambique and Angola automatically securing their places at this year’s tournament. Other countries that have qualified are reigning champions Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mali, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Egypt, Uganda and the hosts Congo-Brazzaville.