FOSHAN, CHINA – President Duterte predicted a lopsided game between Italy and Gilas Pilipinas.
He personally witnessed one.
With the Philippine president watching from the VIP seats of the GBA Sports and Recreation Arena, the Filipinos started tentatively and paid dearly as they fell behind, 62-24, to the Italians at halftime of their 2019 Fiba World Cup debut.
Duterte arrived an hour before the game with China Vice Premier Wang Yang amid a security lockdown around the venue so tight that Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas officials led by chairman emeritus Manny V.Pangilinan had to take the train to get to the stadium.
The Chief Executive, who in a speech before Fil-Chinese businessmen last month predicted a lopsided loss by Gilas to Italy, visited the Philippine dugout before the game before settling in his seat in one of the skyboxes, where he was accompanied by Senator Bong Go.
"We're here to give you the spirit to fight. Kaya natin to. It's never too late to dream and we'll be praying for your victory," Duterte told the team during the pre-game pep talk.
"Nandito ako, just give it your all. Whatever it is, para sa inyo, nandito ako."
But the President had barely warmed his seat when the Italians began putting their stamp on the game, pulling away to a 28-4 lead after the first six minutes.
The game was all but over after one quarter as the Azzurri missed just three of 18 shots and went 6-of-8 from three-point land. In contrast, Gilas made just four of 13 shots and turned the ball over eight times.
By halftime, Italy had opened a 62-24 lead and the President stood up and waved meekly to the crowd, who responded with a polite cheer.
The President stayed around to watch the rest of the match and the Filipinos played much better against Italy's second stringers - but not good enough to make a dent on the deficit.
They ended up losing, 62-108.