Gilas Pilipinas, Korea resume bitter basketball rivalry
The stage is set for another emotional match that could end in either heartbreak or triumph.
Gilas Pilipinas battles South Korea again Wednesday and, unlike the last time these two countries met just over three weeks ago, their quarterfinal clash in the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon has a lot at stake.
So much so that the game will be a guaranteed tearjerker.
The Koreans sealed their clash with the gung-ho Filipinos after ripping Japan, 81-68, on Monday night. They will be the first of three huge roadblocks Gilas has to hurdle to regain Asian cage supremacy.
Getting back to the top of Asia in the sport the Philippines treats like religion became an achievable dream a week ago when the Filipinos upset the balance of power in the biennial conclave. Undersized as usual and with less than two weeks practicing together, they brought down defending champion China.
The game is set at 11:30 p.m. (Manila time) at Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in the Lebanese capital of Beirut and the Filipinos would like nothing less than a repeat of their 2013 triumph in the Final Four of this event in Manila.
That victory was the first after a series of heartrending defeats in major international events, and it left the packed Mall of Asia Arena crowd shedding tears of joy as the Filipinos entered the title game. They eventually lost to Hamed Haddadi and Iran the following day.
But it wasn’t the gold-medal loss that remained in the minds of the Filipino fans.
Up until this day, when Jimmy Alapag, the retired former Gilas captain, anchored Team Philippines’ swashbuckling finish with huge triples, the game this country remembers most is the one against Korea.
Of that Gilas squad, only Gabe Norwood, Jason Castro and the injured June Mar Fajardo are in Lebanon.
Korea also has a new look, with the veteran Oh Se Keun leading this young squad that dealt the Philippines an 83-72 defeat in the Jones Cup in Taipei more than three weeks ago.
But that loss didn’t hurt, it was actually just a pinch.
Knowing the rivalry of these two teams, defeating the resilient Koreans could matter more than the Filipinos’ upset of the Chinese.
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