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Felicio, Brazil upbeat about chances of qualifying for Tokyo 2020
RIO DE JANEIRO (Brazil) - Brazil are in an upbeat mood and looking forward to challenging for one of the four spots still on offer for next year's Olympics in Tokyo.
Having aimed for qualification with a strong performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, Brazil started with three wins in as many games, including a 79-78 triumph over a Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Greece. But they next suffered defeats against the Czech Republic and the United States and crashed out of the tournament.
Brazil left the Far East knowing they must win one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) next summer to return to the Olympics for the third time in a row.
"PLAYING IN THE OLYMPICS IS SUCH A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY, AND WE KNOW THAT WE HAVE THE TALENT TO QUALIFY BY COMPETING WELL FIRST AT THE OQT."
"We will be ready to compete against every team we will have to face," Brazil power forward Cristiano Felicio said to FIBA.basketball.
"We don't have a choice; we want to be in Tokyo 2020 and we're going to do whatever it takes to qualify for the Olympics."
"Playing in the Olympics is such a unique opportunity, and we know that we have the talent to qualify by competing well first at the OQT," he said. "It's going to be very intense and every team can make it to the final tournament (Olympics), but we want this spot for Tokyo 2020. We have still a couple of months to focus on this fully, but it's on everyone's mind, that is for sure."
Brazil must first process what happened in China and make sure they grow from the experience.
The coach of the national team, Aco Petrovic, said after the 93-71 defeat to the Czechs that Brazil had shown up at the game with no energy. The Czech intensity, he said, allowed them to dominate all aspects of the game.
"We had a goal to try to get a spot for the next Olympics and maybe fight for a medal, but our overall performance was not sufficient to reach those goals," Felicio looked back at the World Cup. "It's disappointing, really disappointing, because we put so much work into it and we had been working well in the last couple of years to have a team that could fight among the best in international competition."
There were positives at the World Cup for Brazil. Youngsters Bruno Caboclo, Didi Louzada, and Yago Mateus got a taste of what a big-time international tournament is like and that should help the national team moving forward.
Caboclo played an average of 26.7 minutes per game at the World Cup
"It's the new young wave of the national team, and it's good to see that some young guys are included in the team to try to help the group," Felicio said. "Bruno has been doing well lately for the national team, and you can tell that he has improved a lot both physically and on his game.
"Didi is a very solid defensive guy, and he is learning fast, he always wants to improve. Yago is very energetic, he is such a quick kid! What is good with all of them is that they want to learn, to improve, to become better players every day.
"It is very important to keep this kind of mentality in order to grow as a player and to help the national team. They are going to have the keys of the national team at some point, and they will do great I'm sure."
"WE WANT TO BOUNCE BACK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, WHICH MEANS THAT OUR RUN AT THE OQT HAS TO BE GREAT."
There is an advantage that Brazil should have over some OQT opponents.
Petrovic led Croatia to a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Games by steering them to an OQT triumph in Turin in 2016. It was a very competitive tournament, one that saw Croatia beat Greece and hosts Italy at the end to take the Olympic berth.
Now back in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Felicio is anxious to put the Brazil shirt on again and fight for the chance to play at a second straight Olympics. He was in the squad when his country hosted the 2016 Summer Games.
Felicio believes the national team underachieved in China and he wants to put things right.
"The expectations were higher," he said. "And we want to bounce back as soon as possible, which means that our run at the OQT has to be great."