AN OLD tormentor from Oceania and two upset-conscious rivals from East Asia stand in the way of Gilas Pilipinas on the road to the 2025 FIBA Asia Cup.
After Tuesday’s draw in Qatar, the Nationals found themselves bunched with powerhouse New Zealand in Group B of the Qualifiers for the Asian Cup along with Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong.
The 21st-ranked Tall Blacks have been a big thorn in the side of the No. 38 Filipinos in FIBA competitions.
The Kiwis swept the Nationals in their home-and-away duels in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers last year, 88-63 in February and 106-60 in June, then reasserted their mastery in the Asia Cup in July, 92-75.
Gilas, rebuilding after the FIBA World Cup, wants to change this.
The Taiwanese, meanwhile, sit 40 places lower than the Philippines in the FIBA world rankings. But they couldn’t be dismissed altogether as they have shown their capability in finishing fourth in the 2018 Indonesia Asiad ahead of the No. 5 Philippines.
At 119th, Hong Kong is the lowest ranked team in the group. The HK cagers caught the last bus to the AC Qualifiers by beating Malaysia in their final assignment in the pre-qualifiers, 71-66, and are bent on springing surprises on their fancied opponents.
Gilas’ aim is to finish Top 2 in the home-and-away qualifiers that begin in February 2024 to make it to the AC tournament proper. — Olmin Leyba