TEAM Pilipinas still managed to squeeze in a two-hour practice despite being travel-weary heading to its crucial FIBA World Cup qualifiers game against Kazakhstan on Sunday night.
Despite having little rest following more than 18 hours of flight from Doha, Qatar to Astana, Kazakhstan – in between an eight-hour layover at Istanbul, Turkey, the Filipinos were all business Saturday night as they prepare for their final but most crucial game in the year-and-a-half tournament.
The team practiced shortly after the coaching staff announced the final 12 line-up for the 10:30 p.m. game (Manila time) against the host country. Raymond Almazan and Scottie Thompson were the two players left out of the roster.
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial, who accompanied the team in their long trip all the way to Kazakhstan along with some members of the league board, lauded the entire team for the sacrifices it made for the country.
He said most of the players and coaching staff hardly had a sound sleep since the Qatar game, but are willing themselves to help make the country proud.
“Kung kami nga na hindi naglalaro pagod na, what more yung mga players and coaches natin. Malaking sakripisyo talaga ito para sa kanila,” said the PBA chief.
Coach Yeng Guiao has made it clear what the ultimate job is all about – beat Kazakhstan.
“Importante na dalawa yung maipanalo natin. If we win two games, palagay ko yun na yun,” said Guiao of the team’s campaign in the final window of the qualifiers.
Half of the job has already been done following the Filipinos’ 84-46 beating of Qatar early Friday morning. They now need to get past the Kazakhs in the hopes of avoiding any complications of earning a return berth to the World Cup set in China this August.
Crowding out Team Pilipinas for the final Asian berth in the quadrennial meet are Jordan and Lebanon, which are currently tied at fourth in Group E with similar 6-5 records. China also totes the same mark, but is already an automatic cinch to make it as the host country.
The Filipinos also have a 6-5 card for fourth place in Group E.
Tournament format has the best fourth-placed team advancing in the World Cup along with six others from Asia.
Jordan took a step of earning a World Cup berth after scoring an 86-62 victory over China early Saturday, while Lebanon suffered a heartbreaker with a 69-67 loss to Australia.
The Lebanese will have South Korea for their final game, while Jordan faces New Zealand, both games to be played simultaneously with the Philippines-Kazakhstan match.
Guiao said main focus is on the outing against the Kazakhs more than the outcome of the other matches.
“We just try to keep ourselves relax. We just try to focus on the game plan, the systems, offense and defense, and the match-ups,” he said.