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Gustavo Barrera (URU)
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Uruguay seek to fulfill their dream - returning to a World Cup after 33 years

MONTEVIDEO (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) - The Uruguayan national team will face two key games in their search for the World Cup qualification. First, they’ll travel to Monterrey to face the Mexican national team at Gimnasio Nuevo León Unido on February 22. Then, the team will head to San Juan to face Puerto Rico at the historic Roberto Clemente Coliseum on February 25. Tickets to this match sold out in 24 hours.

Uruguay and Puerto Rico are tied with a 6-victory, 4-loss record in Group E of the Americas Qualifiers, so a victory against the Boricuas would qualify the Uruguayans to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time since Spain 1986.

The national team commandeered by Argentine coach Rubén Magnano started their training on Tuesday at the Uruguayan Basketball Federation Training Center and suffered two losses after the 16-player roster was announced on February 1. Sebastián Vázquez suffered a teared muscle and Federico Haller a herniated disc, so coach summoned center Nicolás Borsellino to be the new face of the squad for the upcoming encounters.

The players that will defend the light-blue jersey in the next two games are guards Luciano Parodi (Corinthians, Brazil), Santiago Vidal (Rio Ourense Terma, Spain), and Gustavo Barrera (Hebraica Maccabi, Uruguay). Joining them are shooting guards Bruno Fitipaldo (San Pablo Burgos, Spain), Joaquín Rodríguez (Aguada, Uruguay), small forward Marcel Souberbielle (Malvín, Uruguay), power forwards Sebastián Izaguirre (Aguada, Uruguay), Mathias Calfani (San Lorenzo, Argentina), and centers Nicolás Borsellino (Atlético Goes, Uruguay), Kiril Wachsmann (Olimpia, Uruguay), Hatila Passos (Malvín, Uruguay) and Esteban Batista (Nacional, Uruguay).

Mathias Calfani joined the training sessions after achieving the third place with San Lorenzo (Argentina) in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup that took place in Rio de Janeiro, and Nicolás Borsellino was the last player of the list to be called.

After playing several friendlies with Uruguayan league teams Olimpia and Trouville, the team is leaving this Tuesday to Monterrey, with a stop at Miami, to play against Mexico; then, they’ll travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Mexicans, who have no other qualification possibilities, are playing with a young team that doesn’t have the experience of their main players; which is why the key duel — even though the victory over the Mexicans is also very important —is the encounter against the Boricuas.

“That’s the key so that we don't get paralyzed. That’s why I talk about confidence. That’s the true oil in the wheels of any team. You must take decisions naturally, with no pressure. You also have to give importance to the game against Mexico because depending on other results, we could qualify,” stated Magnano.

Uruguay are getting closer to a decisional point in the direct qualifying zone. They're tied with Puerto Rico, but they defeated them 64-62 on November 29 in Magnano’s debut as coach and in the sports inauguration of Antel Arena — in front of 10 thousand people in a sold-out venue. Batista made a great contribution there (19 points and 9 rebounds), and they then lost against the United States in their most recent game (78-70) and have the same points as the Dominican Republic who, for now, are fourth in their corresponding group.

“The Puerto Rico game at home stayed at 60 points. You don’t achieve that out of the blue. We can say that it was erratic, but what's the reason behind that? That's something you achieve if you cause the others to make mistakes through the defense, through your defensive courage, and that's what invited me to come to coach in Uruguay,” shared Magnano, who added: “The game against Puerto Rico will depend on individual responses that come out of a tactical strategy.”

Uruguay would get a direct ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup with a win against the Boricuas, something that has never happened in that country, but a victory against Mexico would suffice if they win the tie-breaker against Puerto Rico and the islanders lose against Argentina. Alternatively, they could qualify as the best team in the fourth place of the Americas.

“I'm not one to guess, but I hope that everything is in its place and all details are in order before and during this game so that Uruguay is competitive. We're not going to achieve our qualification just by wanting it. The effort must go hand in hand with our desire. If we follow that road, our possibilities increase very much,” Magnano explained.

Esteban Batista will be a fundamental piece in Magnano's team — in both sides of the court. The center leads the team with 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

“We don't have another option but to win. We only want to be in China 2019. We've made so many sacrifices and efforts and we’ll do our last one in February to get our place at the next FIBA World Cup. For our basketball, our fans, the roster, the technical staff, for everyone that loves basketball in our country, and for many more, we want to qualify to the next World Cup,” added Batista, one of the legendary Uruguayan national team players.

In the road to the Qualifiers, both in the first and the second phase, Uruguay have achieved 4 victories as locals and 2 as visitors. They were defeated twice at home and twice on the road, and in total they register 6 victories, 4 defeats, 16 points, and are behind Argentina and the United States — both teams that have qualified.

“There are two games left, we want to do our best and play like warriors, just like we've been doing since the beginning of the Qualifiers. Mexico and Puerto Rico are very difficult opponents, but we'll be ready for those two games and as motivated as ever,” stated the Uruguayan professional league’s El Nacional player.

At the Qualifiers in Montevideo, the Charrúa national team, led at the time by Marcelo Signorelli, overcame Mexico on September 17, 63-60, with Batista as the highest scorer, with 18 points, followed by Luciano Parodi, with 15.

“We want to take Uruguay to the world stage and show what we're capable of doing. We're not yet there, but reaching that dream is closer to us, so we’ll do everything we can to qualify,” the center pointed out.

Uruguay hasn't played a World Cup since 1986. There are three direct spots in each group and an extra one for the best fourth place of the two brackets —and Uruguay are going for it with their dream intact of being once again among the best in the world.