SEVILLE, Spain – Gilas Pilipinas makes history Saturday night (Manila time) when it officially leads the country back into the FIBA-World Cup following a long 36-year absence.
Expect no royal welcome for the Filipinos, though.
Coach Chot Reyes and his resilient 12-man army bannered by naturalized player Andray Blatche will have no less than world power Croatia for their first opponent in the world championship.
The Croatians are indeed, tough customers, as they made it to the round of 16 during the 2010 edition of the meet in Istanbul, Turkey.
They also made the semifinals of the FIBA Eurobasket last year behind almost the same lineup which Gilas Pilipinas is facing.
Bronze medalist during the 1994 world meet in Canada, Croatia boasts of a 7-foot-2 center in Ante Tomic and NBA players Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Indiana Pacers).
Known for producing cage greats such as the late Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, Croatia is best remembered for finishing runner-up behind the original USA Dream Team during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
The Philippines has yet faced Croatia in the World Cup.
After the Croatians, Gilas next face Greece, followed by Argentina, Puerto Rica, and finally Senegal.
Gilas Pilipinas is bracketed in Group B.