22 - 31
July 2016
8 Amirhossein Azari (IRI)
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Azari: "Beating China in front of our fans would be huge"

TEHRAN (2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship) - Hosts Iran slipped up twice in the Group Phase of the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship but now have the chance to upend and dethrone the three-time reigning champions China in the Quarter-Finals - which would be a great win.

"Beating the defending champions China in front of our fans will be a huge thing for us," said Iran captain Amirhossein Azari. "It will give us the confidence to carry on all the way to the final."

Besides being a showdown of two of Asia's biggest powers, it is also a match-up of the two finalists from the 2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship final - won 66-48 by China. 

When asked if there will be a bit of revenge on Iran's players' minds going into the game, Azari answered: "Yes – you can say that."

The captain actually said he likes the match-up against China more than Japan and Korea, against whom Iran lost in Group B play. 

Amirhossein Azari has been a leader for Iran at the FIBA Asia U18s.

"Our transition defence was weak. They're fast and took advantage of that," Azari said of the losses. "Another reason why they beat us was because of their killer shots. Each shot that went in was demotivating us."

China will be a different story, he says.

"It's a good challenge for us to play against this tall Chinese team. But unlike Korea and Japan, they're slow and that might be good for us," the Iranian leader said. 

If Iran can get past China, waiting in the Semi-Finals will be the winner between Korea and Philippines

Azari sat out of Iran's first two games against Indonesia and Kazakhstan with a groin injury. 

"Coach wanted me to rest," said Azari, who averaged 11.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in the final three group games. "I'm better now but sometimes I still feel the pain."

Azari has been helped in Tehran by the fact that he played last summer at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship.  

"It made me a better player and gave me a strong personality," the Tehran native said. "Playing in Greece also helped me improve my overall game. I'm a better player than the one from the U19 Worlds."

"Beating the defending champions China in front of our fans will be a huge thing for us. It will give us the confidence to carry on all the way to the final." - Azari

Azari, who started playing basketball when he was 12 years old, also learned a valuable lesson about losing a big game. Iran lost to Turkey in Crete which would have gotten the country into the Quarter-Finals of the U19 Worlds for the first time and secured their best finish. 

"It was important because if we had managed to win we would’ve qualified to the Quarter-Finals. But unfortunately we lost," said Azari, who watched as the team finished 14th.

Now, it's Iran's chance to take down the champs - with help of their captain. 

"It's not easy to be the captain of the host team. It's a big responsibility," he said. 

He would love to take the responsibility and give the home fans a win over China and a spot in the Semis.