Historical Cape Verde. The modest African team has qualified for its first basketball World Cup after beating the Ivory Coast 79-64 on Sunday. And it will become the next edition, from August 25 to September 10 in the tournament to be held in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, in the country with the smallest population to attend a World Cup event. With some 590,000 inhabitants, it exceeds the record of Montenegro, which played in the 2019 World Cup (it will also attend the next one) representing 620,000 citizens.
Cape Verde’s triumph has a name, that of Walter Tavares, the Real Madrid center who has participated in seven games in these qualifying windows despite his commitments with his club. As an example, these last two games. Tavares played last Thursday for Real Madrid against Zalgiris in the Euroleague and then paid out of pocket for a 12-hour flight to wear his team’s jersey. On Saturday Cabo Verde lost to Angola 80-67, with 11 points and 15 rebounds from their great figure, and this Sunday they defeated the Ivory Coast at home with 13 points and five rebounds from the 2.21m center. In the qualifying phase, Tavares has averaged 15 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
Cape Verde is ranked 66th in the FIBA rankings and its best international result so far has been bronze at Afrobasket in 2007. With Tavares in their ranks, they were fourth at the same tournament in 2021. Angola, Ivory Coast, Egypt and South Sudan are the other African teams that will be in the World Cup.
In an interview with EL PAÍS, when asked about a possible nationalization to play with Spain, the Real Madrid center defined his relationship with his national team as follows: “I’ve always wanted [nacionalizarme español], but since Cape Verde has a small basketball base, I have continued in that team to help. I would really like to play with Spain, but they have much more talent and resources than Cape Verde. Playing with my country and doing my bit is very important to me. If not, I went with Spain upside down every summer without failing a single one”.
Tavares grew up on the island of Maio and basketball rescued him from a hard life. His mother had a grocery store and sold other products and his father was a sailor and spent six months a year away from home. The Madrid player remembers that when his father left, he did not know if he was going to return or if he would lose his life at sea. Tavares was signed thanks to some photos that were taken of him due to his great height (there were hardly any baskets on the island because they were destroyed by the boys who played futsal) and that arrived in Spain, where he began an unlikely career in Gran Canaria. So, he admits, he barely knew how to bounce and coordinate: “I didn’t even know how to walk well. A coach saw me coming down the stairs and said that I couldn’t play basketball. I came without any basis, with anemia, very lazy about everything. My whole body ached, my shoulders when we did exercises under the hoop. But there was no other way. It was either that or go back to my country to be told that I had failed with the opportunity they had given me. That fear of failure has made me who I am.”
Great success for Cape Verde and failure for Argentina, which is left out of the World Cup for the first time since 1982. The Albiceleste team fell 75-79 in Mar del Plata against the Dominican Republic, led precisely by an Argentine, Néstor García, who was sacked from his country’s national team last August amid a tense atmosphere in the dressing room. Argentina, now coached by Pablo Prigioni, dominated the match by as many as 17 points, but ended up losing in a big bump. A group in which figures like Campazzo, Deck (25 points) and Laprovittola played this Sunday is left without a World Cup. The Argentine team, currently fourth in the FIBA ranking, was second in the 2019 World Cup after losing in the final against Spain (it was also silver in 2002) and began a new stage after the definitive end of the golden generation of its basketball . After winning the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup, Argentina will not be at the big world summit.
“It’s a shit,” admitted Campazzo; “We didn’t defend well, we made a lot of mistakes. Now we have to be united and keep working, there is no other. The feeling is ugly but I’d rather be with my brothers here with this shitty feeling than in another place. The mentality now must be to think about the following. We leave everything. We apologize to people.” Argentina finished fourth in their group after Canada, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Brazil also obtained the World Cup ticket.
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.