MANILA, Philippines – The abundance of talent didn't exactly translate to success for Gilas Pilipinas as it lost to Jordan and Lebanon in tuneup games held as preparation for the fifth window of the World Cup qualifiers.
Team Pilipinas won only one of its 4 friendly contests: a default win against Jordan that saw the visitors walk out following a word war between rival coaches Yeng Guiao and Joey Stiebing.
Chemistry was a big issue for the Filipinos, and when it was time for business, it showed.
The Philippines carried its losing ways to the fifth window as it fell prey to Kazakhstan and Iran in back-to-back home games at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Both defeats were upsets, considering the Filipinos beat the Kazakhs by 37 points in the 2018 Asian Games and the Iranians didn't have top stars Hamed Haddadi and Nikkhah Bahrami at their disposal.
Against Kazakhstan, the Philippines fizzled out when it mattered most as it surrendered an 82-99 loss on November 30.
The same thing happened versus Iran with Gilas failing to protect a lead late in the 4th quarter on the way to a heart-wrenching 70-78 defeat on December 3.
No thanks to the losses, the Philippines dropped to 5-5 in Group F, fell out of the top 3 – which guarantees a spot in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – and slipped to 4th place.
Japan, which barely reached the second round of the qualifiers with a woeful 2-4 card, climbed to 3rd place behind a 6-4 record while Australia (9-1) and Iran (7-3) bolstered their places at No. 1 and 2, respectively.
Fortunately, the Philippines can still earn a ticket to the World Cup, although the chances are slim.
First, Gilas must win both road games in the sixth and final window against Qatar and Kazakhstan. Then it would need Japan to drop at least one of its games against Iran and Qatar. Both teams now carry 7-5 slates.
That way, the Filipinos will return to No. 3 and clinch a World Cup berth without complications since they swept the Japanese in the first round.
If Gilas wins just one, it can still occupy 3rd place if Japan loses both of its final games. But considering the Akatsuki Five's six-game winning streak, the Philippines would need a ton of luck for that to happen.
Another scenario where the Filipinos could see their World Cup aspirations come to life is if they become the better fourth-placer in both Groups E and F.
Currently, Lebanon sits at 4th place in Group E with a 6-4 slate while Jordan dwells at 5th with a 5-5 record.
In order to be the better fourth-placer, the Philippines has its fingers crossed that Lebanon loses back-to-back to New Zealand and Korea and Jordan gets defeated by both New Zealand and China.
Despite the major blow, national team head coach Yeng Guiao remains unfazed.
"I still feel this is a good team. I still feel this is a strong team. I still feel the chances are slimmer going to the World Cup but I still feel we can do it," he said.
The Philippines takes on Qatar and Kazakhstan on February 21 and 24, respectively, to wrap up the Asian Qualifiers. – Rappler.com
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