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Wheelchair aces lose

The Sasol South Africa wheelchair basketball team suffered an agonising 77-72 defeat at the hands of Algeria in the Africa Qualifiers Final at the Mandeville Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

This means that Algeria’s victory will pit them against the best of the world at the 2010 World Cup in Birmingham, England but the local favourites will nurse their wounds, evaluate and then start rebuilding for their next challenge. ÔÇ£Obviously we are gutted,ÔÇØ said Richard Nortje, again the most lethal player on the team.┬á ÔÇ£We came here with the sole intention of winning and to lose by such a small margin, is just gut wrenching.

ÔÇ£When the stakes were down against Morocco in the semi-final, we scored 17 points to turn the tables and, if we had a little more time on the clock tonight, things could have been different. I know the men on this team. We will come through to win again.ÔÇØ

The North Africa team led the early charge but South Africa managed to reel them in to finish the first quarter at 20-all. Again, Algeria burst from the blocks guns blazing in the second quarter and built a 13 point cushion to lead 52-39 at half time. A spirited South African comeback saw the home side reduce the deficit to just seven points over the next 10 minutes.

The teams started the final quarter with Algeria in the driver’s seat at 65-58 and South Africa cut the shortfall to just five points within a few minutes.

With four minutes on the clock and just when winning the game looked within Sasol South Africa’s grasp, the team was dealt a massive blow when guards Marcus Retief and Justin Govender were given their marching orders.

Retief and Govender, having both reached five fouls – the maximum number allowed per match ÔÇô were replaced by newcomers Kyle Louw and Daniel Mphaki, who stepped into the fight with vigour, but with the plays unsettled, Algeria was able to pick gaps in the home side’s defence to keep their five shot lead alive until the final buzzer.

ÔÇ£We have proven conclusively that we are the best in the Africa by beating South Africa twice,ÔÇØ said a jubilant Cherbal Redouane, manager of the Algerian squad. ÔÇ£Now we have to go to England and do Africa proud.ÔÇØ

National coach Viv Sierra said they always expected a tough battle against a team that boasts eight players who play professionally in France, Italy and Holland. ÔÇ£Although Daniel and Kyle gave everything, we had too little time and that was the turning point,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£There was just not enough time left for the team to settle properly and Algeria took full advantage of that.

But I believe our team gave everything they had and then some. Coming back to win the semi-final from Morocco on Friday was a mammoth task and it probably took more from the team than we realised. I am incredibly proud of every player on the team; with their conduct and the way they fought, they still did South Africa, our sponsor Sasol and wheelchair basketball a huge service.ÔÇØ

In the end, South Africa took silver, but the news wasn’t all bad for the Sasol South Africa squad.

Nortje, with 131 goals, 62 rebounds, 14 turnovers and eight steals was awarded Most Valuable Player of the tournament and selected to the All Africa Stars, alongside team-mates Retief, Govender, David Curle and captain Marius Papenfus.

Morocco beat Angola 88-29 to claim bronze while Zimbabwe came out 48-41 against Kenya to win the classification match.

Algeria 77 South Africa 72
Morocco 88 Angola 29
Zimbabwe 48 Kenya 41

South Africa: Richard Nortje (4.5), David Curle (4.5), Marius Papenfus (2.5), Marcus Retief (1.5), Justin Govender (1.0)

Algeria: Omar Zidi, Ayache Bilel
Morocco: Kamel Megrini, Mohammed Oulini, Najib Essahiri