Qualifying the hard way
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2019 - 12:00am

Eight tickets, including an automatic slot for host Japan, were settled at the end of the recent FIBA World Cup in China with the top finishers from Asia, Oceania and Africa and the top two placers from the Americas and Europe claiming berths.

Asia and Oceania were combined for the World Cup Qualifiers which allocated seven seats, excluding host China, for the two zones. Making it to the World Cup from Asia were Iran, South Korea, Japan, Jordan and the Philippines. Australia and New Zealand advanced from Oceania. China took an eighth ticket as World Cup host.

At the World Cup, the top Asian finisher was No. 23 Iran while No. 4 Australia was No. 1 from Oceania and No. 17 Nigeria from Africa. The top two placers from the Americas were No. 2 Argentina and No. 7 US. The top two finishers from Europe were No. 1 Spain and No. 3 France.

Two Asian and two African countries finished the competition without a win. The Philippines, Japan, Ivory Coast and Senegal went zero in five games each. The Philippines set a dubious record for conceding the most average points a game, 99.8, in the World Cup since South Korea surrendered 122.9 and China 111 in 1990. A team from Asia is in the record books for giving up the highest average points in 11 of the last 13 World Cups.

The Philippines wound up dead last in the 32-team standings with the highest point differential of -147. Gilas’ average losing margin was 29.4 points. The 126-67 loss to Serbia was the biggest losing margin for the Philippines in the World Cup’s 69-year history. Japan also didn’t win a single game and gave up an average losing margin of 24. Its largest margin was 53 points in a 98-45 loss to the US.

Iran and China finished with identical 2-3 records. However, Iran had a higher point differential of +7 compared to China’s -10. Iran’s wins came at the expense of Angola, 71-62 and the Philippines, 95-75. China picked up wins over Ivory Coast, 70-55 and South Korea, 77-73. A painful 79-76 overtime defeat to Poland prevented China from advancing to the second round.

South Korea and Jordan ended up with the same 1-4 records. South Korea left the tournament with an 80-71 decision over Ivory Coast while Jordan beat Senegal, 79-77, in its farewell outing. Both South Korea and Jordan showed up with naturalized players. South Korea enlisted University of Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe, now known as Ra Gun-ah, while Jordan tapped De Paul University’s Dar Tucker. Ratliffe led the World Cup in both scoring (23) and rebounding (12.8). Tucker was No. 1 in average free throws made, 6.8. He hit at a 21 point clip and was the World Cup’s second most productive import behind Ratliffe.

Iran narrowly finished ahead of China in point differential and claimed the Olympic ticket for Asia. Japan, as host of the 2020 Games, will also play in the competition.

With eight spots booked for Tokyo, only four remain up for grabs. FIBA will conduct four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to determine the last four to make it. Each tournament will involve six teams. FIBA will conduct a bidding process to situate each tournament. For the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were only three qualifying tournaments in Belgrade, Manila and Turin. That was because the 2014 World Cup champion was seeded so nine slots were allocated, leaving only three to advance from the qualifiers. Serbia, Croatia and France made it from the three qualifiers.

Of the 24 teams in the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, 16 were chosen from the rankings in the recent World Cup. They were the next 16 finishers after the eight qualifiers – Tunisia, Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Canada, Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Russia, Germany, Turkey and New Zealand. To complete the 24-team cast, FIBA will select eight more countries to add to the 16. They will be two from Africa, two from the Americas, two from Asia and two from Europe. The wildcard invitees are entitled to bid for the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to be held in June next year.

It’s unlikely that the Philippines will be invited to participate in the Olympic qualifiers because of its doormat finish in the World Cup. Surely, China will be invited, leaving one more wildcard ticket open, possibly for either South Korea or Jordan. If the Philippines is invited, it will be bracketed in a group to include teams from the Americas, Africa, Europe and possibly New Zealand if the Kiwis don’t land in any of the other three qualifiers. So finishing No. 1 would be virtually impossible.

In 2014, the Philippines was in the Olympic qualifiers in Manila with France, New Zealand, Turkey, Canada and Senegal. The teams were split into two groups of three with the top two finishers advancing to the semifinals. The Philippines never broke out of the preliminaries, losing to France, 93-84 and New Zealand, 89-80.

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