''We are not scared of nobody'' - Italy's Marco Belinelli
FOSHAN (China) - Italy are ranked 13th based on the FIBA World Ranking Presented by NIKE, but strangely enough, this is their first time at the World Cup in more than a decade.
Italy last played at the flagship event back in 2006, during the last World Cup held in Asia. One of the players who saw action for the Azzurri back then is San Antonio Spurs three-point specialist Marco Belinelli, who remembers his previous World Cup experience well.
Marco Belinelli is the only returning player for Italy from their last World Cup appearance
"Being back in the World Cup is a very big achievement," he said. "It's a great competition, and I was on that 2006 team. We had a young team then, but we've always seen this as a great and important competition."
Italy fell short of making it to the Quarter-Finals in Japan, losing a heart-breaker to Lithuania, 71-68, in the Round of 16. Belinelli, however, was nothing short of brilliant. Even at 20 years old, he was already Italy's leading scorer with 13.5 points and 2.3 three-pointers per game.
Not surprisingly, he's the only remnant of that squad who will see action in Foshan, China this year.
"I DON'T REALLY CARE ABOUT WHERE PEOPLE RANK US. WE'LL SEE IN THIS TOURNAMENT WHAT HAPPENS."
Other notables like Danilo Gallinari, Luigi Datome and Amadeo Della Valle will be making their debut on this stage here at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. Despite that, the now 33-year-old Belinelli is confident they have what it takes to make a big splash in the tournament.
"I think we have a good team," he declared. "We're ready to play. For sure, there are teams that people say are better than us, but at the same time, we are just focused on being better everyday, in every practice and in every game."
Belinelli alluded to how Italy has not been ranked high on anybody's mind, not least of which is the FIBA Basketball World Cup Power Rankings, where based on the latest volume, the Azzurri are no better than 15th overall, behind the likes of China, Tunisia, Turkey and Germany.
The NBA shooting guard doesn't see this as an affront, though. Instead, he sees it as something that will fuel the team's fire to prove the doubters wrong.
Italy and coach Meo Sacchetti will need Belinelli firing on all cylinders to go far in China
"Being not so high in the rankings is good motivation for us," he shared. "I don't really care about where people rank us. I just try to improve and be better. We'll see in this tournament what happens."
In contrast, the team that's been stuff of much of the World Cup talk is Serbia, which lie in Italy's path to glory in Group D. Unlike Italy, the Serbians have enjoyed much praise and hype from all pundits of international basketball. Belinelli, for his part, acknowledges the depth of their European rivals, but he knows it'll take much more than that to put fear in the Italians' hearts.
"We faced Serbia two times this summer, first in Greece and then a few days ago," Belinelli said. "They have a great team, maybe one of the best or favorite teams in the World Cup. They have everything - good players and coach, but at the same time, we are not scared of nobody."
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At the end of the day, their collective fate lies within themselves and the actions they will take moving forward. First up for them will be dangerous Philippines, who haven't had to acclimatize to the environment in China as much as the Italians have. Despite not having the as many stars as Italy, Bellinelli still sees the Philippines as a threat.
"We need to take each game seriously," he said. "We're preparing hard for the Philippines because they have a good team. They play well, run a lot and try to score easy baskets. We just need to be ready against them from the first second of the game and do our thing. We just need to play Italy basketball, be aggressive, be positive and be confident."