Away game? Fans make Gilas Pilipinas feel right at home in Melbourne
The “best fans in the world” descended on Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, giving Gilas Pilipinas a homecourt feel during its Fiba Asia World Cup qualifier group stage match against Australia Thursday.
Arie Estrella, a long-time resident Down Under who traces her roots to Nueva Ecija, was among the Filipino-Australians who trooped to the venue to support Gilas Pilipinas and found the overall atmosphere amusing.
“It’s the home court of Australia but the crowd is more for the Philippine team,” Estrella, who watched the game with her friends, told the Inquirer via Facebook. “The crowd was booing Australia. It felt like being in the Araneta [Coliseum].”
“The whole ambience felt like home for the Filipinos sa dami. Out of 6,504 people in the arena, I’d say 85 percent were Filipinos.”
Australia eventually won the match, 84-68, but even the Boomers were reportedly surprised by the reception they got at their home court.
National coach Chot Reyes said the team’s focus was split between the match against the Boomers and its coming game against Japan, especially in the second half.
“All we wanted to do was compete, compete hard, and we did that,” said Reyes in a press conference. “But it’s hard coming into the ball game when you’re also thinking of the next game.”
The Philippines, which slipped to 2-1 in Group B, will face Japan next at Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday.
“We have a long trip ahead of us and we have to play Japan,” said Reyes. “So as much as we want to go all out for the victory, we also had to make sure we were managing minutes because we know we’re gonna need fresh legs against Japan.”
The restructuring of the Fiba zones put both Australia and the Philippines in the same continental tournament. That, plus the home-and-away format of the qualifiers gave Filipinos Down Under the chance to finally watch the national team in action in an official tournament.
And as with every stop Gilas Pilipinas makes, Filipino fans, made sure that the national team wouldn’t feel like the “away” squad. WITH A REPORT FROM BONG LOZADA, INQUIRER.NET
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