|31 March 2011|
By Julio Chitunda
|Miguel Miranda and his Portugal teammates had a hard time last dummer, finishing bottom of the Qualifying Round Group C|
The most internationally acclaimed Portuguese basketball coach has finally accepted an offer to lead his country.
Mário Palma, who resigned as Jordan coach last September after the 2010 FIBA World Championship, has been appointed Portugal coach for the next two years.
He has replaced Spaniard Moncho Lopez, who parted ways with the country after Portugal finished bottom of Group C during their EuroBasket Qualifying campaign with 1-7 record.
Now Palma, who won several titles in Africa as the coach of Angola and helped Jordan to qualify for their first World Championship by leading them to a bronze medal triumph at the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship, will try to do something else.
He'll attempt to help Portugal claim one of the two places still on offer for the expanded 24-team event to be held this summer in Lithuania.
Portugal will take on Finland and Hungary in the Additional Qualifying Round and the top two sides will earn spots in the Final Round.
"We have the same chances to qualify to EuroBasket 2011 as our opponents," Palma said to Basketball World News.
Palma's first contact with the Portugal squad is to be on June 20 when the team launches its preparations for the Additional Qualifying Round.
"My coaching staff and I now have the task of turning around the current scenario of the national team.
"We should motivate our players as priority point, convincing some of them to join the national team.
"Bringing in new talents and making them work hard is something that we'll stick on our agenda."
Asked if Portugal would attempt to naturalize another player, Palma said he is happy with Heshimu Evans, an American who now plays for the national side, and says he wants "to be able to keep him in the squad."
The two sides that progress to the Final Round will either go into a Group A that already has Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Great Britain and Poland, or a Group C that has Greece, Croatia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
Portugal would prefer Group C.
"We will look to finish top of our group to avoid tougher opponents, such as the hosts Lithuania and the defending champions Spain," Palma said.
Palma is happy with the FIBA Europe decision to increase the number of teams to the play at the EuroBasket, but he says the expansion is going to make a hard tournament even harder.
"This European Championship is a tough one, as it is like a World Championship given the number of teams," Palma said.
Palma last worked in Portugal in the middle of the 1990s and won several trophies.
He moved to Angola and coached them to glory at several Afrobaskets, qualifying the team for the Olympic Games and the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Palma then accepted an offer from Jordan and guided them to their finest moment, a bronze medal at the Asian Championships in China.
Despite being based overseas in recent years, Palma has kept a close eye on the game in Portugal.
Little has changed, he said: "The real problem that the Portuguese basketball is facing is due to the lack of international competition.
"For so long, Portuguese clubs withdrew from the European competitions.
"But things seem to be changing now, with Benfica playing in the (2010-11) EuroChallenge."