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Road to China 2019: Are two road wins in the cards for Team Pilipinas?
MANILA (FIBA Basketblall World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - The Philippines are in a precarious position as they get ready for their final Asian Qualifiers, and if they notch two road wins, they would significantly improve their chances of reaching the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
In this final instalment of a five-part series, we take a look at the only SEABA team that can possibly qualify for the World Cup, the Philippines.
Philippines are currently 4th in Group F behind Australia (9-1), who have already qualified, Iran (7-3) and surging Japan (6-4). The Filipinos' remaining assignments are two road games. They play Qatar on February 21 in Doha before wrapping up their Asian Qualifiers against Kazakhstan on February 24 in Astana.
After losing both of their fifth window home games, the Philippines now find themselves needing to win both of their final window fixtures to end up with 7 victories and put their qualification beyond doubt. Splitting their final two games or, worse, failing to win either, would truly complicate the Filipinos' qualification.
Philippines at the FIBAWC
Philippines is the only Asian team to ever reach the podium at a World Cup. The Filipinos managed that in 1954, finishing third behind champions United States and second place Brazil. After that, they qualified for the World Cups in 1959, 1974, 1978 and 2014.
The Philippines have played a total of 35 World Cup games and prevailed 13 times. Their last win was in 2014 when they defeated Senegal , 81-79, in a game that went to overtime. The Philippines finished 21st in that tournament.
Returning players Paul Lee and Mark Barroca
One player that featured in 2014, Paul Dalistan Lee, returned to the national team last year when the Philippines played at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. He's been called up to the national team squad once more.
"I’m honored to be selected again and be part of the pool," he said. "I’m happy that I was given the opportunity to help the team bounce back in the next window of the qualifiers."
Lee is known as "Angas ng Tondo", which is roughly translated as "Tough guy from Tondo" in the Philippines - a reference to his refusal to back down against any opponent and his roots in the Tondo district of Metro Manila. Philippines head coach Yeng Guiao is hoping Lee's trademark swag and vaunted perimeter game will boost the team.
For his part, Lee is aware of the significance of these contests, especially after falling at home to Kazakhstan and Iran.
"As a player, I really wanted to help the team last time," he shared. "They gave their all in the last window, and it’s just unfortunate that things did not go our way. Hopefully, this time it will be different."
Helping Lee out will be another returning player - Mark Barroca. He is the most recent recipient of the PBA's Finals Most Valuable Player honor and his energy, efficiency and tenacity have made him a prime candidate for one of the point guard spots on the national team, likely alongside veteran Jayson Castro.
Barroca last saw action for the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Cup 2011, and he couldn't be any happier after being named in the squad.
"I’m so happy to be back with the national team," he said. "Some of the players here were my teammates in the my previous time with the squad, and I’m looking forward to playing with them again."
Expert Opinion (Jeff)
This country has no rivals in terms of its fan support. The passion for basketball in the Philippines, and especially international hoops, is incredible. But the reality is that Gilas have made a rod for their own backs with a couple of games that never should have ended in defeats. I'm talking about a 92-88 loss to Kazakhstan on November 30, followed by a 78-70 defeat to Iran. These were opponents the Philippines maybe should not have wiped the floor with yet should have beaten. I see Gilas playing with a sense of urgency in this window and winning at both Qatar and Kazakhstan to improve to 7-5 and at bare minimum give themselves the last qualifying spot as the best fourth-place team in the Second Round groups. I'm expecting New Zealand to have too much for Jordan to overcome in their game to be played in Amman on February 24. It would be wonderful to have the Philippines buzz at a World Cup for the second time in a row. If they can't beat both Qatar and Kazakhstan, even away from home, they won't deserve a spot in China.