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05/01/2018
News

Arakji steps up to lead Lebanon in post El Khatib era

7 Wael Arakji (LBN)
7 Wael Arakji (LBN) - Lebanon v Korea, 2017 FIBA Asia Cup (LBN), Beirut(LBN), Group Phase, 8 August 2017

BEIRUT (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Wael Arakji played with Lebanese legend Fadi El Khatib in his international farewell at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 last summer. Now the 23-year-old Arakji is taking over the responsibility as a leader for his country at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers.

Arakji collected 17.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in the first two Qualifiers - a 107-72 victory at home over India and an 87-83 loss at Jordan. Despite the defeat in Group C, the 6ft 4in (1.93m) point guard knows there is still plenty of basketball to play on the road to China 2019.

"It's a long way for us and losing one game isn't the end of the world," Arakji said. "Our performance wasn't bad, we will get better."

In the Jordan game, Lebanon fell behind by 16 points but made it close in the final minutes.

"Jordan did a pretty good job against us to be honest, it wasn't our day. They played great to the extent that they barely missed a shot. But things will be different next time we face them in Beirut," Arakji said.

"IT'S AMAZING TO PLAY FOR OUR FANS, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THE LEBANESE LOVE THE GAME OF BASKETBALL. THE NEW SYSTEM IS AMAZING. HAVING THE CHANCE TO PLAY WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM IN FRONT OF YOUR FANS EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE IS A GREAT FEELING" Arakji

The Beirut native loved playing the first Qualifier against India in front of the home fans in Zouk Mikael.

"It's amazing to play for our fans, especially because the Lebanese love the game of basketball," he said. "The new system is amazing. Having the chance to play with the national team in front of your fans every once in a while is a great feeling."

The Asian Qualifies were also the start of a new era in Lebanese basketball though as it was the first games after the international retirement of El Khatib, who played for the national team from 2002 to last summer.

"Fadi El Khatib is the best to ever play in Lebanon, so it's a privilege to play with the best," said Arakji. "I think he meant everything for the Lebanese basketball. He's an icon."

But he's also gone. And it's time for the next generation of Lebanese players - with Arakji being among the leaders of that transition.

"We are all working as a team supporting each other to build a strong group," Arakji said. "I have a huge responsibility. I can feel a lot of pressure now, but that's never going to stop me from excelling and improving and rising our flag to the top."

Lebanon have not played at the World Cup since 2010. And the next step on the road to China 2019 comes in February with two road games at Syria and India.

"I HAVE A HUGE RESPONSIBILITY. I CAN FEEL A LOT OF PRESSURE NOW, BUT THAT'S NEVER GOING TO STOP ME FROM EXCELLING AND IMRPOVING AND RISING OUR FLAG TO THE TOP" Arakji

"The biggest thing is that we know we need to fight and work really hard to win every game. It's a new era and I’m sure we will find our way to the top," Arakji said. "We want to win."

And it will likely take two strong performances from Arakji to get those victories.

FIBA