23 September, 2015
03 October
Palestine (PLE)
to read

Palestine down Iraq to clinch first-ever qualification for FIBA Asia Championship

AMMAN (2015 FIBA Asia Championship) - Palestine will play at the FIBA Asia Championship for the first time in their history.

On Tuesday, needing to win against Iraq at the WABA Championship in Amman, Jordan to assure themselves of a spot in the continental event that will be staged in Changsha-Hunan from 23 September-3 October, Palestine prevailed 70-62.

Lebanon claimed the WABA title for the fourth time.

Jordan lost only to the Lebanese and finished runners-up.

The three sides will join another West Asian team, Iran, at the FIBA Asia Championship, which is a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The Iranians clinched their place when they won the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup.

All of the headlines on Tuesday were made by Palestine.

Riding the back of their leader both on and off the court, Sani Sakakini, the side coached by American Jerry Steele beat Iraq for their second victory in Amman. 

You can't imagine how happy people are in Palestine about this - Sakakini

The 26-year-old had 39 points and 17 rebounds in Palestine's first victory on Saturday, a 79-73 triumph over Syria, and Sakakini capped a hugely impressive performance at the event with 35 points and 21 rebounds against the Iraqis.

Jamal Abu-Shamala also weighed in with 16 points and 13 boards for Palestine on Tuesday.

There were joyful, tearful, celebratory scenes after the win for Palestine, who expect to take a stronger team to the FIBA Asia Championship.

Sakakini's brother, Saleem, did not play at the WABA Championship because he just got married and another player, Nick Sabayel, is also a newlywed and on his honeymoon.

A third player who will make the team stronger, Omar Krayem, plays in the Philippines and could not join Palestine in Amman.

All three should be available when the FIBA Asia Championship is staged.

Palestine had an uncomfortable last day because they had to win to assure themselves of third place.

However, Sakakini, a 2.04m center with the Orthodox club in Jordan, told FIBA.com after the victory that he never had any doubts before or during the contest that his team would beat Iraq and achieve their aim of qualification.

"For me, I had 100 percent feeling we would win," he said.

"We prepared well.

I forgot the tiredness and we played so hard to win - Sakakini

"I had no doubt."

Palestine provided plenty of evidence in their opener against Jordan that they were a team that could get into the top three of the WABA tournament field.

Sakakini had 29 points and 11 boards in that game.

Palestine trailed 62-48 midway through the third quarter but outscored the Jordanians 15-6 over the last five minutes of the frame to trail by just five.

Jordan then pulled away at the start of the fourth and won, 92-76.

On Day 2, however, Palestine beat Syria, 79-73, to take the inside track to third place.

Though Lebanon, who would go unbeaten and capture the WABA title for the fourth time, broke open a tight game in the second half and overcame Palestine, 88-79, on Monday, Sakakini and Co bounced back against Iraq.

How significant is the win for Palestine, who will on Wednesday travel by bus from Amman back to their homeland?

"Tomorrow, the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, is going to wait for us on the border," Sakakini said.

Syria, who had beaten Iraq on Monday, 75-71, lost the final game of the tournament to Jordan, 80-69.