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Japan, Iran, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Jordan - who will qualify?
Before anything else, let me just say that the results of the fifth window really shook things up in a big way - mainly the two losses of the Philippines AT HOME.
Those twin defeats put Iran a whisker away from qualification and also kept the backdoor open for Kazakhstan to still make it to the biggest global basketball event. Of course, it also helped that Japan won over the Kazakhs and both Lebanon and Jordan dropped their games, but none of those were upsets.
In a way, both fifth window losses by the Philippines were upsets - against a Kazakhstan team they beat by 37 in the Asian Games 2018 and a depleted Iranian side - those two unexpected results are the real culprits for the smorgasbord of possibilities we have at our fingertips.
Now, to see which among the following countries - Japan, Iran, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Jordan - will likely make it to the World Cup, let's run down the most crucial games of the next window and see what the probable results will be.
21 February 2019 Games:
Group F - Iran v Japan
I expect Iran to be 'more complete' in this window. At the very least, I expect Arsalan Kazemi and Sajjad Mashayekhi to be activated, with both Hamed Haddadi and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami also likely playing at home for the final time in their careers. Japan, meanwhile, will likely continue missing the services of rising stars Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, and though Nick Fazekas has been ultra-solid for the Akatsuki Five, I doubt they'll have enough to defeat a more confident and more complete Iran on the road.
Group F - Kazakhstan v Australia
Australia will win - just too good for Kazakhstan right now, even if Anatoliy Kolesnikov returns to the national team.
Group F - Qatar v Philippines
The Philippines' morale is at an all-time low right now, but as is often the case with them, they will use this as a rallying point to bring their best talents together. I expect them to tap Andray Blatche anew, and with a more balanced roster, coach Yeng Guiao should steer the Filipinos past the Qataris, who aren't playing for anything anymore save for pride. The sizeable Filipino population in Qatar will also probably give Team Pilipinas a big lift in this game. It's gonna feel like a home game for them.
22 February 2019 Games:
Group E - Jordan v China
If you think China will take this game lightly, you've got another think coming. Remember that the final standings will have some sort of bearing on the seedings of the teams in the World Cup, so China should still go all-out here. That means Yi Jianlian, Guo Ailun, Zhou Peng & Co. will all play, and even if China notoriously underplays on the road, they should still be good enough to get past Jordan in this matchup.
Group E - Lebanon v New Zealand
Lebanon are a much more dangerous team at home, especially with Wael Arakji hinting he'll be back for this window. Still, the question is will that be enough for them to upend a New Zealand side that hasn't lost since their very first Asian Qualifiers match? Highly unlikely. My bet is stil on the Tall Blacks to win this one and send Lebanon crashing.
24 February 2019 Games:
Group F - Iran v Australia
Iran's win over Japan should be enough to take them through to the World Cup, and though they'd love to spring an upset at home against the Boomers, that's just so improbable. The Aussies will take this.
Group F - Kazakhstan v Philippines
This will be the BIG one for the Filipinos. They are playing to formally clinch their World Cup qualification but also playing to gain payback against the Steppe Wolves, who blindsided them with their hot shooting a week ago. The Kazakhs will probably use the same strategy, mainly because they really don't have any other way to play, and this time the Filipinos should be ready to counter. A Philippines win is the most probable scenario here.
Group F - Qatar v Japan
Japan should end their Asian Qualifiers campaign strong. The previous loss to Iran will light a fire in this team's belly and really bring out the best in them against the Qataris, who will not be able to do much in terms of countering Nick Fazekas and Japan's platoon of quick and shifty guards. Japan should bring home a win from Doha.
25 February 2019 Games:
Group E - Jordan v New Zealand
Jordan will have a tragic end to what has otherwise been an impressive run in the Asian Qualifiers. Even if Ahmad Al Dwairi returns to the national team to lead their frontline, the Falcons just won't have enough depth to stay in-step with New Zealand all the way. The only way the hosts will beat the Tall Blacks is if the former will shoot the lights out from long distance.
Group E - Lebanon v Korea
This is a game that Lebanon can realistically win, though Korea have playing so sharp. A more complete Korean side coupled with the return of Arakj and Amir Saoud's hopefully rediscovering his shooting form should give the Cedars a much higher chance of defeating Korea at home than they did on the road. I'm taking a risk here. Lebanon will beat Korea.
With these projected results, the group standings should look this way when the Asian Qualifiers end:
*New Zealand - 11 wins, 1 loss
*Korea - 9 wins, 3 losses
**China - 8 wins, 4 losses
^Lebanon - 7 wins, 5 losses
Jordan - 5 wins, 7 losses
Syria - 2 wins, 10 losses
*Australia - 11 wins, 1 loss
^Iran - 8 wins, 4 losses
^Philippines - 7 wins, 5 losses
^Japan - 7 wins, 5 losses
Kazakhstan - 4 wins, 8 losses
Qatar - 2 wins, 10 losses
*New Zealand, Korea and Australia already qualified by the end of the fifth window.
**China qualify as World Cup hosts.
^Lebanon will qualify as the Group E 3rd place team (since China - as hosts - won't be counted as 3rd place). Iran and Philippines will qualify as the Group F 2nd place and 3rd place teams respectively. Japan will qualify as the best 4th place team (better record than Jordan).
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