“Gilas holds off Iran to give World Cup bid a boost.’ Had the head and lead ready with seven minutes left… then found myself backspacing and backspacing some more… ”
Thus read part of my Face book post on Monday night as I sat at the media tribune of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The post was prompted after seeing national team Gilas Pilipinas collapse in the end game against Iran in their key Group F match and slump to a 78-70 loss.
The defeat was telling as it dropped the Philippines to fourth place in the grouping with a 5-5 record and is now at risk of missing the World Cup bus altogether with just two games left on its plate in the qualifiers.
As per tournament format, only the top three teams in the two merged groupings advance to the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China.
The Philippines currently sits behind Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4) in the standings in Group F.
More telling in the defeat of Gilas at the hands of Iran was the manner with which the nationals lost.
They were up there in the match and actually had the Iranians on the ropes, especially with big men Rouzbeh Arghavan and Meisam Mirzaei already fouled out with still a lot of time in the fourth period.
But instead of charging ahead, Gilas regressed, falling to one too many miscues and failing to capitalize on the opportunities presented to it to win the game.
Interestingly, the same could be said in its last game against Kazakhstan on Nov. 30 where the Philippines lost, 92-88.
In the aftermath of the shutout of Gilas in its home stand in the fifth window of the qualifiers, coach Yeng Guiao underscored the need to assess thoroughly the Gilas program, particularly on having a permanent national team which will have ample time to prepare and have international exposure.
Doing so, Guiao said, would afford sustainability and stability of the program moving forward.
“As good as these [Gilas] players are, you know if a team is mature or not. It’s going to show in the way you play your game under pressure and I felt when we were under pressure, our maturity didn’t show and that’s a function of time together and seeing and experiencing adversity, which we didn’t have enough of,” Guiao said in the postgame press conference after the game versus Iran as he underscored his point for an assessment.
Seeing how it went for Gilas in its last two matches, this space surely supports the call for another assessment of the national team.
It was surely an eye-opener.
I mean, the tournament was already in the fifth window and yet the steadiness you would expect from the team was not there.
Of course, along the way there were a lot of things that had happened, foremost of which was the infamous brawl with Australia in July that resulted in majority of Gilas being suspended for numbers of games and pushing the team to make a myriad of changes.
But still, playing at home and for the most part at a good position to come away with victories, one just could not help but feel that we missed out on our chances and would love to have those back.
Whether the Philippines gets to qualify in the 2019 World Cup remains to be seen but no doubt the called-for assessment has to happen.
Such would go a long way not only in the qualifiers but more so in the future tournaments that the nationals will be competing in.
Make this happen. Laban Pilipinas!
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.