Tunisia earns Olympic berth with upset of Angola

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There are now three teams qualified for the Olympics next year in London — Tunisia will represent Africa after a stunning upset to win AfroBasket.

We say stunning upset because Tunisia was taking on Angola, a team that had not lost a game to another African team in a decade, the country that had won every AfroBasket tournament since 1997. Everyone went into this tournament expecting another Angola win.

But first Senegal beat Angola in group play, then Cameroon took Angola to double elimination in elimination play. Angola seemed vulnerable.

Then came Tunisia, which got a game-high 21 points from Marouan Kechrid on its way to a 67-56 win. Angola shot just 32.4 percent in the championship game and hit just 7 of 33 from three. This was Tunisia’s first win of the African championship since 1965.

Tunisia joins the United States and Great Britain in next year’s Olympic tournament. The USA is in for winning the World Championships last summer, Great Britain is in as the host.

Angola and Nigeria — which beat Cote d’Ivoire earlier in the day in the bronze medal game — advance to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. That is a play-in tournament in the weeks before next summer’s Olympics featuring teams from around the globe that just missed out in their regional qualifying. Only three teams from that 12-team tournament qualify for the Olympics, and no team from Africa has made that cut before.

Down a final four in African Olympic qualifying

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Next July in London you will see one of these four teams: Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Nigeria or Angola. Probably Angola, by the way, but there have been enough surprises in FIBA AfroBasket — the Olympic qualifying tournament for that continent — that one should keep watching.

Angola hadn’t lost a game to an African team in a decade until it lost to Senegal in group play. That meant as they headed into the elimination round Angola had to go the harder route through Cameroon. It took double overtime, but Angola advanced and will face Nigeria (staring former NBA player Ime Udoka). Cote d’Ivoire — which knocked off Senegal — will face Tunisia (without Hasheem Thabeed, who is not playing for them) in the other semifinal.

The winners will play on Sunday with an automatic berth in the Olympics on the line. The loser of that game and the winner of the bronze medal game will advance to next summer’s second-chance Olympic qualifying tournament against the teams that just missed from other continents.

FIBA Americas — the qualifying tournament of the Americas — starts next Tuesday in Argentina. EuroBasket, both the championship of that continent and the Olympic qualifying event, starts next Wednesday in Lithuania. That will be a tournament to watch.