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19 Leandrinho Barbosa (BRA), 5 Rafa Luz (BRA)
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Brazil face a decisive stage in their search for the World Cup ticket

SÃO PAULO (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) —This will be the last chance Brazil will have in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers to determine their qualification, and there's increased expectations as the days go by. Both games will be played on the road; first, in the Virgin Islands, on February 21 at the USVI Sports and Fitness Center in Saint Thomas; and then, against the Dominican Republic on the 25, at Santo Domingo’s Palacio de los Deportes. They need a victory to guarantee a place for them in the world stage.

After the 10 games, the team led by Aleksandar Petrović is adding seven victories and three defeats to their Group F record in the second round, where they're currently third with 70% of the triumphs, behind Venezuela and Canada —teams that have already qualified, just like Argentina and the United States have done so in Group E. The Brazilian team would secure their place in the FIBA Basketball World Cup with a victory in either one of their last two games. If this happens, they would close their participation among the first three of their group with a victory against the Dominican Republic. However, a win against the Virgin Islands would suffice if they win the tie-breaker against the Dominicans.

The Croatian coach had to make some chances to his line-up from last time. He reinforced the squad with Alex García (Bauru Basket, Brazil), and summoned point guards Rafael Luz (Andorra, Spain), Yago Matheus (Paulistano, Brazil) and Alexey Borges (Franca, Brazil). Also, small forwards Vítor Benite (San Pablo Burgos, Spain), and Leandro Barbosa (Minas Gerais, Brazil). He also called Marquinhos Souza (CR Flamengo, Brazil) and Mark “Didi” Louzada (Franca, Brazil), and centers Anderson Varejão (CR Flamengo), Rafael Mineiro (CR Flamengo, Brazil), Lucas Dias (Franca, Brazil) and Juan Pablo Batista (Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil).

“For the last qualifying window, we’ll feature the return of an important player that recovered from an injury, Alex García. We’ll also count on Alexey Borges’ presence, who played good games and whom I’d like to see along Rafa Luz and Yago Matheus in the national Brazilian team context,” said Petrović before the team's reencounter.

This time, Marcelino Huertas (Baskonia, Spain), Rafael Hettsheimeir (Franca, Brazil) and Augusto Lima (San Pablo Burgos, Spain) won't be playing, as is the case of other players that were present in previous occassions. Dias and Batista, however, who both play in Brazil’s national basketball league (NBB) were called.

“Rafael had a small fissure in his left foot’s navicular bone and will not be able to play for six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, Lima suffered a trauma to his lumbar region and his recovery will take anywhere from two to four weeks,” explained the Brazilian team’s physician, Carlos Vicente Andreoli.

The players that participated with Flamengo in the Intercontinental Cup in Rio -- Marquinhos Sousa, Rafa Mineiro and Anderson Varejão —will join the squad to their next challenge.

“We've had some great moments, a few bad moments, and we've indeed shown that we deserve to be in China 2019. We have two games to get to that goal; that's very important for the national team,” added Anderson Varejão.

“We're going to get our spot. These are two important games and we need to stay focused day after day; first, we need to think about the first game and getting that victory to qualify; and then we can focus on the next challenge. The attitude must be the best possible, we must base ourselves in concentration, will and team energy. There's no secret: we have to give it all because it's worth a lot to us,” added shooting guard Vítor Benite.

Qualifying in the previous qualifiers was the South American team’s objective because they were playing both games as locals at São Paulo’s Wlamir Marques Gymnasium, but the defeat against the Canadian team, 94-67, with 17 points by Marquinhos Souza, delayed their arrival at China. They had previously defeated the Dominican Republic — who are also the upcoming rivals —100-82 in a game where Leandro Barbosa (20 points) was the outstanding player.

“Losing by 30 points in your own home is very tough and we have to recover that in the last two games, because those will be very significant. We don’t want to feel any remorse; we want to get our place in China 2019 as soon as possible,” added veteran player Varejão.

Against the Virgin Islands, in the month of September, the Cariocas took the game points without setting foot in the court, because the Caribbean squad allegedly faced operational difficulties and couldn’t embark their players on time to face the Brazilian team. For this reason, this will be the first clash between both teams in the Qualifiers.

“These will be decisive games and we need a victory, so we need to do it all, particularly in the first game against the Virgin Islands. Based on the few things that I saw, they're an opponent that play very physically and that could complicate things for us, so we have to impose our rhythm and speed, and most certainly, we’ll qualify in that first commitment,” assured Alex García.

These are the numbers: Brazil have won seven matches, as locals they've conquered 5 triumphs —including the points for the Virgin Islands’ no-show -- and lost only one encounter. On the road they won 2 and lost 2.

“These are two important games. We need a win to confirm our qualification and we need to play very well in the first game to try to achieve a positive result that guarantees our World Cup qualification,” added point guard Rafa Luz, who plays in Spain's MoraBanc Andorra.

Marquinhos Souza is the team’s scoring leader, with an average of 15 points per game. Absentees Augusto Lima and Marcelinho Huertas also lead; the first, in rebounds with 8.3; and the second, in assists, with 6.7. In game efficiency, the best is Anderson Varejão, with 17.7.

Point guard Alexey Borges was very pleased with the opportunity of wearing the national team's jersey: “I'm very happy and I feel honored to be summoned. Representing my country is my dream and it's a goal of every player. This is a unique moment for Brazil and my career. I'm very fortunate to have been called by the coach and grateful for this opportunity. I’ll give it all to do the best and try to help the team to get the World Cup qualification, which is our great objective in these games against the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.”