Will Iran book their World Cup ticket with a win over Japan?
TEHRAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Will Iran keep finally make their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 qualification official, especially with Hamed Haddadi and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami back on the squad?
Hamed Haddadi x Nick Fazekas
Iran will likely heavily lean on center Hamed Haddadi to carry the load on both ends of the floor. He has actually been Iran's most efficient player so far, averaging 13.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, though he'll have to contend with Japan's naturalized slotman, Nick Fazekas, who has been on a tear, putting up 29.3 points and 12.0 boards per contest. With these two behemoths battling in the paint, it'll be interesting to see which one will be able to carry his team to the all-important W.
Prior to Bahrami's return, Mohammad Jamshidi and Behnam Yakhchali were carrying the load in terms of Iran's wing production. Bahrami, however, brings a ton of experience and offensive explosiveness, averaging 14.4 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. If Bahrami's production approaches those numbers in this game against Japan, Team Melli will be in very good shape to notch their eighth win in the Asian Qualifiers.
Iran have the size, athleticism and explosiveness needed to deal Japan a crushing defeat, and since coach Mehran Shahintab's wards are coming off a rousing win in Manila, they have all the momentum they need to beat the Akatsuki Five. Team Melli have a really deep well of talent, and it'll be interesting to see if a relatively depleted Japan can match up. Aside from Haddadi and Bahrami, of course, Iran have the aforementioned Jamshidi and Bahrami along with playmaker Sajjad Mashayekhi and frontliners Rouzbeh Arghavan, Mohammad Hassanzadeh and Meisam Mirzaei. Add to that the fact that Iran are playing at home, and they have all the makings of a winner on 21 February.
On the other end of the floor, Japan will be in must-win mode. With 6 wins in 10 games, the Akatsuki Five still aren't sure to make it to the World Cup. They will need at least one win to have the inside track and two victories to put qualification beyond doubt. It's not impossible to spring an upset in Tehran, but it will certainly be very difficult, given how coach Julio Lamas will be without Rui Hachimura and probably without Yuta Watanabe as well. If guys like Makoto Hiejima, Daiki Tanaka, Yudai Baba and Yuki Togashi can step up, though, then anything can happen. Still, they won't be favored to emerge triumphant in this particular encounter.