20 November, 2017
26 February, 2019
It's all or nothing for Puerto Rico and Uruguay
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It's all or nothing for Puerto Rico and Uruguay

SAN JUAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) — After 15 months, 11 games, long travels and without any options left, the Puerto Rico and Uruguay national teams will star in a “final” whose winner will stamp the passport that certifies them as a World Cup team.

On Monday evening, in the historic Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Puerto Rico’s capital, the South American and the Caribbean team will square off for the last direct pass to the FIBA World Cup 2019, granted by Group E of the Americas Qualifiers.

Puerto Rico will try to get in the fourteenth world event in their history, and their ninth in a row, against an Uruguayan team that has been absent for 33 years of the global scene.

As for the Boricuas, in their path to reaching their goal, says Coach Eddie Casiano, their national team would have to get an additional reinforcement for Monday’s game: he, himself.

“I love this. I would give anything to play in these moments, but it's my job to be on the line and contribute the best way that I can at the time,” said Casiano, former shooting guard of Puerto Rico in a press conference.

“It’s 40 minutes. We're not afraid of the stage nor the pressure. We're going to give the best of ourselves this Monday and we're going to be intense for 40 minutes,” added the Puerto Rican coach, who played in the national team from 1992 to 2004, including the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

Puerto Rico, with a 7-4 record in the Qualifiers, are coming in from an exciting victory of Friday by the bare minimum in the overtime against Argentina, in a duel where the islanders dominated by 10 when there were 90 seconds left to the full time.

The triumph against the Argentines was a great trial for Casiano’s men and a preparation toward their vital match against Uruguay.

“The difference is that Uruguay play harder on the paint with (Esteban) Batista. The statistics might say that they're not good shooters, but when the ball goes from the inside out, firmly standing, they're good shooters,” Casiano warned.

Uruguay adds an important victory against Puerto Rico in these Qualifiers when, in the month of November, they won as locals, 64-62, thanks to a fundamental three-point shot by Mathías Calfani.

“We have to go in with a well-defined strategy, we must understand who were going out to. Our hands are full. We know very well what we’ll encounter,” pointed out Casiano, whose team has one their two recent games by a point.

Forward Ramón Clemente, meanwhile, warned about the Celeste’s game style. “Uruguay are a very aggressive team. And since I'm an aggressive player, I can contribute in that aspect.”

As for Uruguay, they’ll arrive at San Juan with two consecutive defeats under the wing of Argentine coach Rubén Magnano, who debuted with the Uruguayans in the win against Puerto Rico.

In the final stage of this Qualifiers, the South Americans are coming in from losing in Mexico, in a game that was not as transcendent, because since the beginning fo this window it was known that Uruguay’s road to China 2019 included a stop in Puerto Rico.

“I think that there’s just one plan one there’s one game left. We don’t have an alternative, we don’t have another plan. There's no plan B, there’s a plan A: going to Puerto Rico and try to take Uruguay to the World Cup. That's the plan,” said Magnano after losing in Monterrey.

In a recent interview published by Ovación, point guard Bruno Fitipaldo pointed out what will be the key against the Boricuas: “Puerto Rico are rivals of quality and talent. But we have the weapons to control them and do them harm, to play our game, which was something we were able to do in many qualifying games. We're betting on that.”

Uruguay, whose resumé includes seven World Cup appearances, haven’t participated since Spain 1986.

For their part, the last time that Puerto Rico missed a world event was in 2006, in Japan, although they eventually attended with one of the four available wild-cards. Since they started to participate in World Cups in 1959, Puerto Rico have only been absent on two occasions (1970 and 1982).

In case they lose, Puerto Rico have the slight hope of qualifying as the best fourth of the group. However, the Dominican Republic would have to defeat Brazil by a wide margin in Group F, to overcome their point difference.

There are no other options for Uruguay: it’s win or die. A defeat would shatter a dream that has stayed alive until the final stage of the Qualifiers.