•By Wale Joseph, Rabat, Morocco.
The battle between the bigwigs in African table tennis brought out the best in Nigeria and Egypt at the 12th African Games with Egypt securing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games tickets in the men and women events after emerging as the continental champions.
With this development, the Egyptian teams became the first country to berth in Tokyo and was also rewarded with two gold medals to increase the medal haul of Egypt in Morocco.
It was the Egyptian ladies that first secured their slot after beating Nigeria 3-2 in the final. The comeback of the Nigeria team was thwarted by Dina Meshref.
The Nigerian ladies were down 2-0 but spirited efforts from Edem Offiong and Olufunke Oshonaike to put the match at par with the Egyptians were thwarted by the African Champion in the fifth match which was decided when she beat Cecilia Akpan 3-0 to hand Egypt the gold medal.
Just like it happened in the women team event, the same scenario played out in the men as Nigeria had to come from 2-0 down to level up at 2-2.
The sheer determination of Aruna Quadri and Olajide Omotayo restored Nigeria into the match but Omar Assar avoided what played out in 2015 when he dismissed veteran Segun Toriola who is aiming for eight Olympic Games with a 3-0 bashing.
Speaking after the very exciting games, Enitan Oshodi said it was a very good and very close match between the two super powers in table tennis in Africa, saying it very sad that Nigeria lost the Olympics slots and gold medals to the Egyptians.
"Well I don’t know, both matches are very close, the Egyptians deserve their victory, congratulations to them, we didn’t get our tactics right, but all the same I am not the coach so I don’t know why he choose that tactics, maybe he should have use another tactics. Moreover, we have a very experienced team, maybe it’s not their day,” he submitted.
He stated that Nigeria table tennis family should go back to the drawing board because there is lots of work to be done, in terms of preparations for such games, not only preparation for games but year round preparations because the country possess the talents in abundance.
Oshodi charged the players to look ahead in the games because there is still much to play for.
"I think the team should forget about the lost and look ahead because there is still 5 gold medals to play for, The president of the Federation set a target of 4 gold medals, it’s still very possible, it could have been good if we had won today because we would have been in the driving seat, but the same we have to move on and remain focus for the task ahead".
He also disclosed that the team can still qualify for the Olympics through the other qualifiers.
An excited Ahmed Saleh of Egypt described the win as important to the team.
"I am so happy that we were able to achieve our dream of avenging the 2015 loss in 2019 and I think this is the most important match for us because we had prepared very well for it in the last five months. We expected that we will meet Nigeria in the final and we were really surprised with the doubles’ line-up of Nigeria when they paired Aruna Quadri and Segun Toriola because they have been playing with the pair of Toriola and Olajide Omotayo since the start of the tournament. This is very important for us picking the gold medals and securing our place at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan," Saleh said.
For Meshref, the victory was crucial as their efforts in the last few months have been rewarded in Morocco.
“I am personally so excited and for the team we are so excited winning the gold medal and most especially qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. We really prepared for this match and we knew it was going to be tough even when we were leading 2-0. We had thought we could win the match at 3-0 but we had to fight till the end. Nigeria team is not a pushover and we prepared very well for this kind of match because we had expected it. I am so happy that we have now secured our place in Tokyo," said Meshref.