THE road just got tougher, but the Philippines' quest for the coveted ticket to the 2019 Fiba World Cup in China is still alive.
However, Team Pilipinas' fate is no longer entirely in its hands.
Team Pilipinas must now sweep its remaining games in the sixth window of the Asian qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Qatar to have any hope of catching the last bus to the 2019 showcase.
The Philippines, smarting from losses to Kazakhstan and Iran in the fifth window, flies to Doha to meet Qatar - a team it beat in the fourth window - on February 21 before seeking revenge against the Kazakhs in Astana on February 24.
The Philippines (5-5) is currently in fourth place in Group F behind Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3), and Japan (6-4), which dislodged the Philippines from third place after beating Kazakhstan on Monday.
The top three placers from two groups as well as the best fourth-placer will earn a ticket to the World Cup.
If it can sweep both games and finish the qualifiers with a 7-5 card, the Philippines can steal third spot in Group F if Japan loses one of its final two games. Remember, Team Pilipinas beat Japan in their two meetings and therefore holds the superior quotient in the event of a tie.
However, Japan has won its last four games behind naturalized player Nick Fazekas and Japanese-American sensation and potential NBA first-rounder Rui Hachimura may join the team in February road games against Iran and Qatar.
But alas, there's another way.
You see, Fiba World Cup host China is guaranteed a spot regardless its performance in the qualifiers. But if Team Dragon wounds up in the top four of Group E, it will automatically reward the fourth-place teams of both groups a spot in the quadrennial showpiece next year.
China is currently in a third-place tie with Lebanon in Group E on 6-4 cards, behind group leaders New Zealand (9-1) and Korea (8-2). It is set to meet group cellar-dwellers Jordan and Syria on the road in the sixth window.
If the form charts hold and China does end up in the top four in Group E, the top four teams in both groups will be headed to the Fiba World Cup set from August 31 to September 15.