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Argentina risk their victory streak against a Puerto Rican team that dream with the World Cup
SAN JUAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) - The Argentina and Puerto Rico national teams are arriving at the sixth qualifying window with opposite views. The South Americans are already looking forward to the world event that will take place this year in China, while the Caribbean squad’s desire is to be in the same position.
Argentina (9-1) and Puerto Rico (6-4) will duel this Friday at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan as part of the Americas’ Group E in an encounter that’s of the utmost importance for the locals. The Albicelestes, leaders of Group E with 9-1, have already secured the ticket to the World Cup that's to take place in the second half of 2019. For their part, the islander squad, in the fourth spot of their group, with 6-4, will try to hop on the plane to the Asian country in the first of two important duels, since the following Monday they’ll encounter their direct-ticket rival: Uruguay.
Due to Argentina's early qualification, it might be thought that the Boricuas will have a comfortable evening due to the absence of key players like Luis Scola, Nicolás Laprovittola, Facundo Campazzo, and others. With this trio, and Gabriel Deck, Argentina took Puerto Rico out of the court, 106-84, past September in Formosa.
However, Puerto Rico acknowledges the supremacy of Argentina, who have a solid roster of players to face the final part of the Qualifiers and arrive at Puerto Rican soil with seven consecutive wins.
“The game against Argentina is hard, it's complicated. Even though they say that they're bringing other players, they've played in European leagues and are young veterans that understand and have been in the program, playing the European way, for a whole year,” said Eddie Casiano, Puerto Rico’s coach, to FIBA.com.
For this final window, Puerto Rico will count on the return of three veterans: point guard Carlos Rivera, who had been retired from the national team for more than a year; forward Ramón Clemente, who had been absent in the last window due to an injury; and small forward John Holland, who played in the summer.
Rivera recognizes the importance of this game to Argentina, since a victory could open the World Cup door to the Boricuas.
“That first game is very important. We can't be thinking about the second game (on Monday, against Uruguay), particularly when we're playing at home and in front of our fans. We must go out to win that first game. If we don’t get out there with rhythm, if we're not synced in the court, we're not going to the second game with a good mentality. We want to go in with good vibes to the game against Uruguay,” highlighted Rivera.
Meanwhile, Clemente pointed out that: “I've played in Argentina for the last five years. I know their players. We can’t underestimate them because Scola and Campazzo are not here.”
For their part, Argentina make a relaxed arrival at San Juan — but this doesn't mean that they’ll give anything to their rivals for free.
“We're already qualified, but we still dream of adding up and growing,” said Sergio Hernández, Argentina's coach, in his Instagram account.
“We're playing good basketball and always with a different composition, depending on what we're facing. We're trying to keep our leadership in front of Puerto Rico and the United States, but it was important to be relaxed with our qualification in hand,” said “Oveja”, who will feature players who have disputed few players in the Qualifiers or who are debuting, as is the case of Facundo Piñeiro.
“This is a unique opportunity for me, it's going to be beautiful (to play) against two important teams. I’ll try to use this opportunity to the fullest extent and give it all in the court,” said Piñeiro.
Meanwhile, center Marcos Delía, who has perfect attendance in the first ten games, stated that: “It's hard to build a good group and we did it. This has its merits and we deserve to enjoy it. It's a great effort by all: from the directives to the technical staff and the players, we all do it professionally with clear ideas and objectives. This is not just another task for the national team, these are objectives that are meritorious when they are tackled successfully.”
After Friday’s game, Argentina will travel to Greensboro to face the United States in what could be the definition of the group's lead. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico will stay at home, expecting the Uruguayans, who will challenge them on Monday of next week in what could be a defining game for the last spot in the Americas to the World Cup.