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Angolan hoopsters aim to give China the elbow
08:16, August 07, 2008

Think of Angolan basketball and many people wince at the memory of Charles Barkley smashing his elbow into a spindly African at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Barkley's nastiness served as a snapshot of the world's richest nation bullying a then impoverished, war-torn African country - but it also put Angola's basketball players on the map.

Since then Angolans have won seven of their nine African titles, while the end of the country's 1975-2002 civil war has led to improved conditions and facilities for the players.

"I always thought I was a very fortunate kid, I grew up in a place where I wasn't in serious danger," Angola shooting guard Carlos Almeida told Reuters in an interview.

"It was safer in the north of the country. The war was further south. But it's completely different now. You can travel around the country safely, which used to be impossible."

Almeida recalls watching the United States' "Dream Team" destroy Angola 116-48 on television and shuddering when a snarling Barkley sent Herlander Coimbra flying.

"I was a young kid watching the game on TV," said Almeida with a sheepish smile. "I think that was wrong of Charles Barkley, but that's basketball. We prefer to be humble."

China upset

The spirited Angolans will not be posing for photos before facing the mighty Americans again this time, but have targeted wins against Germany and host China in Group B.

"We'll do everything we can to try to win one or two games and qualify for the next round," said Almeida. "China and Germany are tough teams, but we will try to steal those games."

Angola beat China in an Olympic warm-up in Hangzhou last month and is targeting another shock win despite the return to fitness of giant Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.

"We know we have the ability to beat them," said Almeida. "The other teams in the group - Spain are world champions, and Greece and the US are just very, very tough."

The men's basketball matches begin on Sunday, two days after the Games opens, with Angola playing Germany. The final takes place on Aug 24, the last day of the Beijing Olympics.

For a player who remembers when many gymnasiums in the country were converted into ammunition dumps during the civil war, Almeida finds it easier than most to keep perspective.

"No question, the US have the best players in the world," said the 31-year-old, who will be playing in his third Olympics. "It will be an honor for us to play them."

Almeida's diplomacy finally ran out when he was asked to compare the current US team to the 1992 side that included the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

"There's no way you can compare that American team with this American team," he grinned. "The only 'Dream Team' was the one in 1992."

Source:China Daily/Agencies

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