Bring on the Greeks!

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Monday, September 1, 2014


MANILA — After a gallant stand against Croatia, the Philippine national team faces European powerhouse Greece Sunday night in the Group B stage of the 2014 Fiba World Cup at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo in Seville, Spain.

The game is at 8 p.m. in Spain (2 a.m., Manila time).

Naturalized player Andray Blatche and skipper Jimmy Alapag said that the heartbreaking, 81-78, overtime loss to Croatia during Saturday’s opening, at least boosted their confidence.

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“Coming in here, a lot of people doubted us and saw us as an easy match. Now, one thing is sure about it is that we are confident now. We know now that we belong here and we can keep our heads up,” said the former Brooklyn Nets center Blatche.

Blatche finished with 28 points on top of 12 rebounds against a squad laden with his fellow NBA veterans.

Blatche said that he really believe that advancing into the knockout stage of the 14-day tournament is not a remote possibility, citing their game against world no. 16 Croatia as the barometer.

“A lot of teams woke up and realized what kind of a team we are. For me, I will take the same kind of intensity (in the next games). I will come over with a lot of heart and see how it goes,” said Blatche.

The Filipino squad at least needs to win two games to advance past the group stage.

They will next play former world champion Argentina on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) before taking a day’s break and return to battle against Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

Their last game in Group B will be against Senegal on Thursday.

The Philippines has not won a World Cup game in close to four decades, having last seen action in this tournament in 1978.

In 1954, the then national team led by Carlos Loyzaga, Francisco Rabat and Lauro Mumar was the only Asian team which qualified and even won a medal by finishing third. The World Cup was then known as the World Basketball Championship and it was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil . Loyzaga was named to the Mythical Five in the tourney.

Greece, which made it to the World Cup proper tournament as a wild card entry, is ranked no. 5 in the FIBA listing with three NBA players--6’3” point guard Nick Calathes of the Memphis Grizzlies, 7’ Milwaukee Bucks wingman Giannis Antetokounmpo and 6’9” small forward Kostas Papanikolaou of the Houston Rockets.

Apart from Blatche, also expressing confidence were Jeff Chan, who settled with 17 points including four triples, Marc Pingris and Jason Castro, who finished with 10 and 6 points respectively in the opening match.

Other results in Group B showed Argentina crushing Puerto Rico, 98-75; while Greece trounced Senegal, 87-64. In Group A, Serbia demolished Egypt, 85-64; Brazil nipped France, 65-63; and host Spain routed Iran, 90-60. Powerhouse and defending champion USA served notice of its title retention bid with a 114-55 devastation over Finland in Group C.

Also in Group C, Ukraine defeated Dominican Republic, 72-62; and Turkey escaped with a 76-73 win over New Zealand. Asian qualifier South Korea lost to Angola, 80-69 in Group D.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 02, 2014.

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