Wednesday was semi-final day at the Jubilee Games. The matches were intense and the crowds were at their loudest.
The USA women’s basketball team defeated France 47-17 in the first semi-final. USA’s Shaleen Sayani explained there’s more to some games than the final score.
“Since we’ve arrived in Dubai, we’ve become friends with the French team,” said Sayani. “They have only been playing together for a few months. Between games and during practices, a few of our players and our coach Anil helped them learn press and how to play zone.”
“Everyday they are getting better,” she observed.
In the other semi-final, Canada just held off Tajikistan for a 28-27 win.
“It was like a final game because of the intensity,” said Canada’s captain Alyah Karim afterwards. “Their team had great size and rebounding abilities, and can also hit shots.”
With 30 seconds remaining and Tajikistan down by four, Canada fouled them during a three-point shot, giving Tajikistan three shots from the line. They scored on one and hit a lay-up immediately after, but that’s as close as they’d get.
“We look forward to facing the USA in the finals,” Karim continued. “We will need to be at our best to play well defensively and slow them down.”
In a semi-final featuring two American teams, USA Red and USA White. USA White, whose players refer to themselves as BATS — Believe, Achieve, Together we Succeed — won by the slimmest of margins, 41-39, pushing their way into the final.
“It was neck and neck for most of the game,” said USA White player Rahim Hussain. “They were up at half time and we came back in the fourth.”
With just seconds remaining and the score at 39-39, BATS’ captain Amaan Porbanderwala hit a layup to seal the win.
“[My teammate] Zoheb Rayani gave me a great screen,” said Porbanderwala, describing the last play. “I got a little angle, and drove to the basket. I floated the ball up for a layup and it fell in.”
Three players on USA White – Hussain, Porbandarwala, and Neal Merchant – were on the gold medal-winning team in the 2008 Games in Kenya. They’re now their late 20s and early 30s.
“Many people had counted us out because of our age,” said Hussein. “It means a lot to be able to show we can still compete at this level.”
The men’s football semi-finals lived up to their billing. Both matches went all the way to penalties before they were decided.
“I’m exhausted. That was crazy. I was stressed beyond belief,” said Canada Red’s goalkeeper Akil Ladha after leading his Canadian team to a 4-3 victory over Tajikistan White.
“We didn’t play well the whole game, but then the goals started coming,” said Ladha. After finishing the first half 1-1, Tajikistan scored two more goals to put them up 3-1 with eight minutes left in the match.
With three minutes left, Hoshang Noor Ali converted on a penalty kick, setting the stage for Nadeem Gangji to tie up the match with less than a minute left. Gangji sped down the right side and cracked a perfect shot that went off the right post and in.
“Tajikistan was very good at their counter attacks, and did a very good job of slowing the game down and disrupting the Canadian team’s flow,” said Rahim Daya, a Canadian spectator.
With no goals in extra time, the match went to penalties, where Ladha, Canada’s goalkeeper, was the hero. Ladha stopped three of Tajikistan’s five attempts meaning they scored two while Canada scored on three of their five shots.
“I read a couple of them — the ones I saved — and I stuck with my gut and it worked out,” said Ladha.
The other semi-final had a similar script, this time with Pakistan holding a 1-0 lead well into the second half. Tajikstan Red tied the game late and eventually won in penalties, forcing a final between themselves and Canada on Thursday.
The Team UK vs Canada women’s semi-final was a true match of the titans. Both teams cruised through the group portion of the tournament and were pegged as favourites.
The match went all the way to extra time before a winner was decided. In the end Canada booked their spot in the final with a 3-2 win.
The match had highs — incredible defending from Team UK’s goalkeeper Nilufer Nathoo — and lows — yellow cards to players on both sides. In front of a loud audience in which Team UK’s supporters outnumbered Canada’s at least two-to-one, UK took an early lead. Canada would draw even at 1-1 before the end of the first half.
Canada’s Katera Noor and UK’s Farah Damani scored in the second half to push the match to extra time, setting the stage for Noor’s game-winning goal at the 96 minute mark.
In the other semi-final, Pakistan beat Kenya to set up a Pakistan-Canada final.
In one of the men’s singles semi-finals, Canada’s Rahim Rana defeated Uganda’s Alishan Shalwani 21-19, 24-22. Shalwani gave Rana a good run in the third set, taking the match to extra points as the rules state you have to win by two.
“I got a little nervous towards the end but I’ll come back [next time] with stronger skills and tactics,” said Shalwani. He said he hopes his efforts at the Jubilee Games encourage the growth of sport in Uganda.
In the other semi, Team UK’s Zulfikar Tejrar faced India’s Zoeb Dhanani. Dhanani won in straight sets 24-22, 21-14.