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Iraq coach Antic cautions against complacency
TEHRAN (FIBA Asia Challenge 2016) - Coach Srdjan Antic was once a promising player for Partizan Belgrade before an injury cut his budding career way too soon. He, therefore, knows first-hand how unexpected circumstances can blindside the progress of any player or team, and this is something he wishes to impart on his promising Iraqi team as they near their crucial Semi-Finals clash with Korea at the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016 in Tehran, Iran.
He acknowledges, however, that his wards have played tremendous basketball. After years of being absent from playing at this level of Asian hoops, Iraq were not really expected to make much noise in this tournament, but they have done the exact opposite. The Iraqis surprised a lot of people when they blew out Qatar on Day 2, and they have now won their last two games to reach this far. This is not lost on Antic, who is very proud of what his team have currently accomplished.
“This is a huge win for us,” he said after they upset China yesterday. “The boys played with heart, and they deserve this moment.”
Heart is a great word to use. Iraq entered the Quarter-Finals as the fourth seed from Group F, and they were playing the top-seeded China from Group E. China had a lot of size, shooting and youth, but Iraq didn’t fold as they countered with physicality, sheer athleticism and better endgame poise.
When the dust settled, Iraq celebrated at center court, while coach Li Nan of China fumed at the sidelines. China have never won the title or even placed on the podium in this event’s history, and yesterday’s defeat prevented them from breaking that curse.
Iraq, of course, are riding high on the emotions of that monumental win, but coach Antic hopes they can keep these emotions in check and stay focused on the next goal — beating Korea to make it to the Final.
“It’s important for us to have our feet on the ground,” Antic remarks. “We shouldn’t be complacent just because we beat China.”
Antic has good reason to be anxious. Iraq already played Korea earlier in the tournament, losing badly to the East Asian powerhouse, 102-80, on Day 5. Iraq’s perimeter defense was torn to shreds in that contest as Korea hit 20 three-pointers. Antic hopes his team can execute better on both ends of the floor for them to serve up some measure of payback.
“We lost by a big margin against Korea when we played in the group phase,” Antic recalls. “But if the players execute the plays like they did today, we have a very good chance to beat Korea.”
Frankly speaking, if Iraq continue to play the way they’ve been in their last two wins, nobody should be surprised if they sink Korea and stay alive for a chance to win the championship.