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Top of the table
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 01 - 11 - 2016

In the men's events of the African table tennis championship, Omar Assar claimed the gold medal after beating his Nigerian opponent Aruna Quadri 4-3 in an epic final. The Nigerian's efforts of becoming the continent champion failed as he fell 4-3 to the defending champion in an entertaining final.
An elated Assar told Nation Sport after the match, “It was really a crazy match because against Aruna it's always very exciting. I think I gave my 100 per cent concentration and I was listening more to my coach, Helmi Ashraf. I think Aruna played very well because he was always changing service and he was more aggressive on his forehand. I am so happy retaining the title and I hope I can play better than this in future tournaments,” Assar said.
The Egyptians succeeded in reclaiming the men's team title they lost to Nigeria at the 2015 African Games after beating the West African giant 3-2 in the final of the 2016 ITTF Africa Senior Championship in Morocco.
The encounter had the quality expected of it and the players gave the fans something to cheer throughout the match with Quadri showing his worth against the Assar-led Egyptian side.
The trio of Segun Toriola, Bode Abiodun and Rio Olympic Games quarterfinalist Quadri matched their Egyptian counterparts strength-for-strength, and it was the same Mohamed Al-Beiali who lost the final game at the 2015 African Games to give Nigeria a 3-2 win in Congo Brazzaville but who saved the day for the North Africans as he came from 2-0 down to beat veteran Segun Toriola 3-2 to throw the Egyptian fans into ecstasy in the 3-2 win.
An excited Ahmed Saleh said: “We knew from the start of the match that Segun Toriola is a dangerous player and we planned that we could take the lead 2-1 and hope that Omar Assar will defeat Aruna Quadri in the fourth game. Unfortunately Omar Assar lost and we were confident that Al-Beiali will deliver and I am so happy that he did it for us. This victory is sweet because that was our main mission in Morocco, to reclaim our men's team title which we lost to Nigeria at the 2015 African Games in Congo Brazzaville. I am so happy that I am part of this team and I will cherish this victory for a long time.”
The victory recorded by the Egyptian women against Tunisia was not as sweet as the win the men's team had over the Quadri-inspired Nigerian side.
Dina Meshref lost to her Nigerian opponent Olufunke Oshonaike 4-2 to claim the silver medal in the women's singles event. Oshonaike reclaimed her long lost African title at the ITTF African Senior Championships after beating Egypt's Meshref in the final.
The Egyptian has been unbeaten in the last two years, but Oshonaike with her experience confused the young North African to emerge as the new continent number one star.
Following her victory, Oshonaike said she was happy that her experience was very handy against the Egyptian. To emerge as the new African champion, Oshonaike won (7-11, 11-13, 11-5, 11-9, 7-11, 7-11).
A joyful Oshonaike said: “I knew it was going to be tough because being the African champion and she has been unbeaten in the last two years. I just told myself to go out there and have fun and show my experience and when it started working I gained more confidence. But when the match was 2-2 my coach Toriola told me not to give up and I kept on going and it worked for me at last. This victory means a lot to me that I can still become African champion despite my age. It shows that nothing is impossible regardless of age in as much as you put your mind at it. I am so happy despite the challenges of making it to Morocco. I feel great and I am so excited that I can still do it and this is also an inspiration for girls that no matter your age, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to in life,” she said.
However, Meshref clinched two gold medals when she teamed up with her colleague Yosra Helmi in the women's doubles event and with Assar to win the other gold in the mixed doubles event.
The pair of Assar and Meshref of Egypt retained their mixed doubles title after beating Nigeria's duo of Toriola and Oshonaike.
The match was a clash between youthfulness and experience with youth prevailing over experience as Assar and Meshref overwhelmed the Nigerians 4-1 to hold on to the title they won in 2015.
A satisfied Meshref said: “I must admit that it was a bit difficult for us winning this title last year because we played the pair of Olufunke Oshonaike and Aruna Quadri in the quarter-final and Congo Brazzaville's Han Xing and Saka Suraju in the semi-final. But this year, getting to the final was hard and the final was not as easy as the result because we played against two of the most experienced players in Africa.”
For Toriola, playing against the youngsters was a bit difficult. “From the beginning I knew it was going to be hard for us because Oshonaike was worried and when it comes to rallies we cannot withstand them because Oshonaike is a defensive player,” Toriola admitted.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Khaled Al-Salhi was handed another four-year term at the congress of the ITTF Africa at the Bi-Annual General Assembly (BGM) held in Agadir, Morocco.
Al-Salhi, who became the president of the second largest continental body under the ITTF, was elected unopposed while Henry Djombo (CGO), deputy president; Olabanji Oladapo (NGR), vice president of administration; Hajera Kajee (RSA), vice president of marketing; Berte Abou Bakary (CIV), vice president of finance; Monqid Hajji (MAR), vice president of media and public relations; and Balla Lo (SEN), vice president of technical matters were all elected unopposed.
In his acceptance speech, Al-Salhi pledged to lift the fortune of table tennis in the continent while calling for more support from national associations. “I am highly honoured to be considered for another term in office and I want to thank the congress for their trust and support. We are so ambitious for the future hoping that we can focus on development and marketing of the sport so that we can continue to grow the sport in Africa,” he said.
Countries that staged major competitions were also honoured for their efforts.
Over 18 national associations graced the BGM while the congress also commended Morocco for their efforts to stage a befitting ITTF Africa Senior Championships.
For 2017, Tunisia will host the African Junior and Cadet Championships in April while Congo Brazzaville is considering hosting the ITTF African Cup and Club Championship in July.


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