The pre-Olympic tournament, based in the city of Nantes, will bring together 12 teams that will fight for five seats in a contest in which Cuba shares Group A with the local side and New Zealand.

On this important competition, ACN spoke with Alberto Zabala, who has spent eight
years as head coach of the Caribbean squad.

What do you think about Cuba's rivals in the group?

First I must say that all the groups are tough and all teams are training very well with the intention to qualify, but I like being with France - London 2012Olympic runner up-in the same poole, because according to the competitive system that guarantees that we will not face that team in the phase.

But, we must beat New Zealand to go to the defining matches and once there fight for one of the five tickets in dispute.

Satisfied with the team's preparation for the Olympic qualifiers?

Yes, we are satisfied; the athletes have trained very well, with work aimed at developing physical abilities, in addition to raising the technical and tactical level that we will evaluate in friendly matches soon.

Where did they have done greater emphasis on training?

We have made more emphasis on improving the technical and tactical elements of the game; we ,also pay attention to medical and psychological work, which undoubtedly has been very positive.

How do you see the physical condition of the players?

All players are fine physically, and show satisfactory results in testing they have done.

Do you think it is a goal reachable that the Cuban women's basketball to return to the Olympics after its last participation in Sydney 2000?

Yes, we are very optimistic: First, because we have trained very well, and second because girls are focused, united and convinced that it is possible to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. We are like a family and that strengthens us.

Regarding the athletes who play in foreign leagues, will they join in time to achieve the necessary teamwork?

I think there is no problem with that. Ineidis Casanova and Clenia Noblet, who were in Brazil, are already in Cuba. Oyanaisis Gelis will soon return from that country and Suchitel Avila will return from Spain in the second half of May.

We are very happy with them because they made good use of the time in those leagues, and I am sure they will greatly help the team in upcoming tournaments.

Do you have scheduled some matches before the Olympic qualifiers in France?

Yes, we have plans to travel to Brazil and play three games with the national team in the first half of May. Then, on June 2nd, we will leave for Spain to play friendly matches versus the local side, France and possibly Venezuela.

What would you highlight of the group under your command?

Discipline, that's always a very important element. The players I coach assimilate well my guidance inside and outside the court. We have also managed this group to be every day a stronger family, which influences on the results of the team.

The Olympic cycle finishes on Rio de Janeiro 2016, how do you see the future of the Cuban women's basketball?

We cannot say it is excellent, but it does not look bad. For example here in the national pre-selection we have 18 basketball players and 12 of them can face the Olympic cycle starting in 2017.

Those players, plus others that are in the provinces, will take the baton of the established ones, and I see some of them with talent and conditions to maintain or improve the level of the Cuban women's basketball. In addition, if we achieve the goal of attending Rio de Janeiro, the sport will get oxygen and that will be very positive.

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