MANILA, Philippines – Team Pilipinas seeks to do what has so far been impossible in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers – beat Iran right in its home turf.
A hostile crowd and an Asian powerhouse await the national squad against the Iranians when they duke it out in the first Group F game at the Azady Gym in Tehran on Thursday, September 13.
"I believe we have a pretty good chance. The guys are ready and raring to go," Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao told Rappler through text.
"Our defensive schemes are ready and I believe the coaching staff has done another excellent job scouting them."
Game time is at 8:30 pm (Philippine time).
Iran – tied with Australia on top top Group F with impressive 5-1 records – has solidified its status as one of the region's best with a silver-medal finish in the recent 2018 Asian Games.
After dropping their tournament opener against Iraq, the Iranians have rolled on to five straight wins and have not lost at home behind 7-foot former NBA player Hamed Haddadi and veteran Samad Nikkhah Bahrami.
Haddadi averaged team-highs of 16.8 points and 12.0 rebounds for Iran in the first round of the Qualifiers while Bahrami normed 12.8 points and a tournament-leading 6.8 assists.
But one of the few things the Philippines will bank on in its attempt to pull off an upset is Iran's unfamiliarity with its rejigged 12-man lineup, which features 10 players who will be playing the Qualifiers for the first time.
Scottie Thompson, Alex Cabagnot and Ian Sangalang will debut for the senior squad while Marcio Lassiter returns to national team duties for the first time since 2011.
Only Gabe Norwood and Allein Maliksi saw action in first round of the Qualifiers, which saw the Filipinos finish with a 4-2 slate. (READ: No Slaughter in Gilas final 12 as Thompson, Cabagnot suit up)
Even without the towering Greg Slaughter to match up with Haddadi, Guiao has not lost confidence on his squad.
The 7-foot Slaughter got cleared by FIBA to play as a local but was left out of the lineup due to an ankle injury.
"We expect a hard physical game against Iran in a hostile environment. It's a very experienced team that has a solid starting lineup. Our bigs are ready to make up for Greg's absence." – Rappler.com