Korea, Iran in with a shot to challenge Australia, NZ for basketball crown

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Korean basketballers too hot, slick and tough … Philippines beaten. Video: FIBA Asia Cup

By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano in Adelaide 

Two former Asian champions earned the right to square-off for a finals ticket and possibly an opportunity to beat Australia or New Zealand in the ongoing FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut.

Former Asian Games champion Korea (world number 30) was too hot, too slick and too tough on defense in a masterful 118-86 win over previously unbeaten Philippines in the first quarterfinal yesterday.

Former three-time FIBA Asia Championships titlist Iran then broke the hearts of home fans by beating Lebanon, 80-70 in the second quarterfinal tussle.

The two countries will meet in the upper bracket of the semifinal round Saturday, August 19.

The lower bracket of the semifinal round is yet to be determined with games today pitting long-time FIBA Oceania champions Australia versus reigning FIBA Asia champions China, and New Zealand battling underdogs Jordan.

-Partners-

Winners of the last two quarterfinals matches will meet in the other semifinal match. Should the Boomers and the Tall Blacks win, only one team from the Pacific will head on to the finals slated Sunday, August 20.

Korea upset New Zealand, 76-75, in during a Group B preliminary round match. And with the way they played against the Tall Blacks and against the Philippines’ Gilas players, the Koreans may enter the finals.

Korea played with a younger batch of players. Its stalwarts in either FIBA Asia or the FIBA World Cup such as guard Yang Donggeun, shooters Cho Sungmin and Kim Taesul and the Moon brothers are have given way to the younger players like centers Oh Sekeun and Kim Jongkyu, and guard Sun Hyungkim.

Iran still has ageless Hamed Haddadi, part of a triumvirate that towed Iran’s title runs in the 2007, 2009 and 2013 FIBA Asia Championships (former name of today’s FIBA Asia Cup). That triumvirate included players who have retired from FIBA play: small forward Samad Nikkahbahrami and Mahdi Kamrani, both former mythical five selections in previous FIBA Asia tournaments.

Given the reformatting of continental tournaments, as well as qualification for the 2019 FIBA World Cup to be held in China, the former Asia and Oceania zones merged into one FIBA zone (Asia).

The merger made Australia the zone’s top team (world number 10), followed by China (number 14) and New Zealand (number 20). Australia, with a line up filled with at least six NBA players, almost won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

Most of the teams at the FIBA Asia Cup did not field in their best players. Some teams are reserving these players when the FIBA World Cup qualification tournaments, featuring home-and-away games (similar to football), begin this November.

Jeremaiah Opiniano is an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila, Philippines.

 

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