The Road to Manila
by rick olivares
When qualification for the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament tipped off, there were 25 nations vying for a slot for Manila. Some countries began fighting for their slots as early as September 30 of 2012 while others finished their campaigns as late as June 23, 2013.
However, when all was said and done, the 16 countries that advanced took varying roads to Manila.
Kazakhstan had the easiest of routes as they needed only one game to advance and that was via 80-60 rout of neighboring Uzbekistan in the battle for Central Asia.
India, a country more known for cricket, chess, and field hockey, has a nascent basketball program with the NBA helping expand the growth of the sport. While basketball is still far from being considered a national sport in one of the world’s most populous markets, they are the kings of South Asia and they reinforced that message when they hammered neighboring Nepal 109-26 and Afghanistan, 64-46, to book their tickets to Manila.
That was the easy stuff. The other countries had to sweat it out before pulling through.
In East Asia, long time regional power Korea played five matches all of which they won to top their group. They won their first three matches by an average of 50 points before finding rough sailing against Hong Kong (for a 105-62 win) and eventual finalist opponent China whom they defeated 79-68 last May 21 at Incheon.
Joining Korea in the FIA Asia Championship are China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Chinese Taipei while Mongolia and Macau were left behind.
Over at the 13th Gulf Championship, rising power Qatar swept its four assignments but received stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who also made the trip to Manila.
For the powerhouse West Asian region, Iran won all three matches but went through an overtime period to outlast Lebanon that ran out of gas in a 100-86 loss.
Iran, with their golden generation of Mehdi Kamrani, Hamed Afagh, Hamed Sohrabnejad, Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, and Hamed Haddadi, have challenged the longtime stranglehold that China and Korea have had on FIBA Asia for years. They won back-to-back tournaments in 2007 and 2009. They are the current Asian Cup and West Asian champions. And perhaps more frighteningly, the Iranians fly into Manila as the new Jones Cup champions where they defeated Chinese Taipei, 72-67, to clinch the title in the single round robin tourney.
But Lebanon (they gained a measure of revenge when they dealt Iran their only loss in the recently concluded Jones Cup) and Jordan, second and third place finishers in their qualifying group also secured their spots for the Manila tournament.
The last region to compete for the Philippine slots is from neighboring Southeast Asia. With the Philippines securing an automatic slot as host country, neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, more known as footballing nations, had to battle it out at Medan. Thailand and Malaysia advanced with identical 2-1 slates but it was the former who topped the group on account of a 63-47 win.
From Astana to Incheon to Manama to New Delhi to Medan and to Tehran, the road now leads to Manila where for 11 days, 16 countries will hold the collective breath of the world’s largest continent. Because only three countries will be packing their bags once more after this. To the FIBA World Basketball Championship in Spain from August 30 to September 14 next year.