Just about 20 years ago, Angolan basketball was known internationally for a single game, for their service in providing the appetizer course for the angry/hungry Dream Team in the 1992 Olympic Games. Ultimately, Team Angola’s first turn on the big stage was remembered for a single moment of ignominy, i.e. Charles Barkley’s hammering of Herlander Coimbra amid a massive blowout.

Angola today has a long way to go before finally upending a Team USA in tournament play, but the FIBA Africa runners-up delivered a message to world basketball in defeating Europe’s Cinderella story of 2011, FYR Macedonia, 88-84, in game one of the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men.

BiE was a bit puzzled watching Team Macedonia’s play in this one. On offense, the side showed admirable teamwork, considering its heart (Bo McCalebb, Pero Antic, Vlado Ilievski) had only suited up for the club for a loss to Puerto Rico in a friendly. Sure enough, each of these guys went for 38 minutes, combining for 50 points and 11 assists. Predrag Samardziski, who’s been excelling in the leadup to this tournament, put in 12 points and was about the only one aside from Antic doing anything in the interior (more on this momentarily) with seven boards.

With the ball, this *looked* like the FYR Macedonia that shocked Eurobasket 2011, with just eight turnovers, great fast breaks chasing eight steals, and nice crisp ball movement – in the second half, that is.

The second-quarter charge by the Angolese highlighted the Lions’ fundamental problem in this match: Soft defense. Way too soft, steals notwithstanding.

Check out the official FIBA highlight clip to witness the barrage of poorly contested jump shots and some nifty speed from Team Angola that made FYR Macedonia look despairingly slow. In the end, if it wasn’t Eduardo Mingas burning another Lion for two of his 24 points, it was Olimpio Cipriano from outside with 11 points in the second and 23 for the game.

What the clip doesn’t show is the African side consistently outmuscling Team Macedonia for rebounds: Winning the battle of the defensive boards 21-9 denied the Lions many a second-chance opportunity while the Macedonians teed off on 35 three-point attempts.

In succinct summation, Antic said that “We need to play harder.” Indeed.

So, as in the last Eurobasket, FYR Macedonia gets in a 0-1 hole early. Unfortunately for them, the Olympic qualifying tournament is far more demanding and a two-and-out looms.

Next up for both sides is Team New Zealand, and Team Macedonia may yet right this ship to advance: Their advantages in size and experience should be exploited against the Kiwis, and with no Kirk Penney on-hand, New Zealand appears to have no serious scoring threat. Who awaits in the knockout stage, then? Here’s a hint. No one said this was going to be easy…

As for Angola, they might be sizing up their chances on Wednesday night with Barkley’s famous line. As impressive as these guys looked last night, Angola may yet make some noise in London.

And you know Coimbra’s loving it…

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