By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE FIBA World Cup 2019 bid of the Philippine men’s national basketball team was put in jeopardy after it lost to Iran, 78-70, in a key Group F qualifying match on Monday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The loss sent Gilas Pilipinas to its second straight loss in the qualifiers, following its defeat at the hands of Kazakhstan on Nov. 30 also here in Manila, to slide down to fourth place with a 5-5 record and at risk of missing the World Cup bus altogether with two games left in its schedule in the qualifying stage.
It is a situation that had Gilas coach Yeng Guiao ruing missed opportunities and moving to call for much assessment of how the handling of the national team could be enhanced.
“We’re disappointed not just about the match but for the whole window. For a while there we thought we had a really good chance of winning the game. For the most part of the game we were holding on to a small lead and we were on the verge of breaking out. It just did not happen for us in the end,” said Mr. Guiao, who saw his team falter in the end against Iran and slump to the tough defeat.
“As good as these 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,” the Gilas coach said in the postgame press conference.
Given where they are now, Mr. Guiao said much assessment should be made between now and the sixth and final window of the qualifiers in February next year.
He went on to underscore that having the national team have more time together in training would go a long way in the nationals’ cause and so does naming a more permanent stable of players to make up the team.
“Certainly time together is going to help but I’m not sure if that is totally within our control, on being able to have extra time to play together. I’m not sure we can do something about it. It’s really up to the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) and the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas). If they give us time, then that’s going to be very helpful,” Mr. Guiao said.
“I was actually suggesting that once and for all we name who the national players are and not keep naming a pool every time there is a competition. Let’s keep the number to 15 and support them with time together and international exposure. We’re in that stage now where there’s really a crossroad looking into the future and making that assessment. I think I have to discuss this with our basketball leaders,” he added.
But despite their road to the World Cup becoming narrower, Mr. Guiao is not losing hope of still getting the job done.
“I still feel this is a good team. Our chances are slimmer now going to the World Cup but I still feel we can do it,” Mr. Guiao said.
As per tournament format, the top three teams in each of the two merged groupings advance to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
Australia is on top of Group F with a 9-1 record, and is already assured of a spot in the World Cup, followed by Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4).
The Philippines are to play Kazakhstan and Qatar in away matches in the sixth window in February.