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How Japan revived their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 qualification chances
TOYAMA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Japan took a giant leap towards World Cup 2019 Qualification when it registered its sixth straight win yesterday over visiting Kazakhstan.
But beyond the immediate headline of the Akatsuki Five beating the Steppe Wolves, there's a spectacular larger trend afoot.
Japan is on a giant six game win streak stretching back to June 2018.
What makes their streak even more remarkable is that at one point it appeared that Japan was heading for an early exit, after dropping their first four games in the initial windows, with losses to Philippines (twice), Australia and Chinese Taipei.
Thereafter, the side has turned it around and how!
Japan's 6-0 record since June is now the joint second best in these Asian Qualifiers (tied with Korea). Their streak is second only to the already qualified Tall Blacks who have won a whopping nine straight.
So what has prompted Japan's stirring resurgence?
Two thirds of the way through the first round, despite the presence of 'old reliables' Makoto Hiejima, Joji Takeuchi and Ryusei Shinoyama, Coach Julio Lamas desperately needed to rekindle the spark in his team. In came Rui Hachimura, Nick Fazekas and Yuta Watanabe, and the Akatsuki Five were immediately galvanized.
At the most recent fifth window, Japan benefited from playing both games at home in front of a packed Toyama crowd. But they were still missing the talented young duo of Hachimura and Watanabe. In their absence, Fazekas stepped up to lead the charge, with Heijima and athletic wingman Yudai Baba chipping in to ensure that the team stayed energized through the eight quarters.
We look back at Japan's six game win streak:
29 June 2018- bt Australia 79-78
2 July 2018- bt Chinese Taipei 108-68
13 September 2018- bt Kazakhstan 85-70
17 September 2018- bt Iran 70-65
30 November 2018- bt Qatar 85-47
3 December 2018- bt Kazakhstan 86-70
Can Japan make it to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, for what will be only their sixth time?
The final window will be played in February next year, with the Akatsuki Five travelling to the opposite end of Asia to take on Iran and Qatar.
Considering their current rich vein of form, Japan seems to be an unstoppable force peaking at the perfect time. Their two remaining Group F opponents will have the arduous task of stopping this Japanese bullet train in its tracks.