Yao Ming powerless as host China flop at Fiba World Cup
Yao Ming looked on helplessly and fans were left in tears as hosts China failed to progress to the second round of the Basketball World Cup with a 72-59 defeat to Venezuela on Wednesday.
In a do-or-die battle to reach the next stage, it was the South Americans who appeared to relish silencing a vocal, packed crowd at Wukesong Arena in Beijing.
Basketball, along with football, is the most popular sport in China. But that has failed to result in a top-class team and there is no current successor to trailblazer Yao.
The former Houston Rockets All-Star, now 38, took over as head of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2017 and set about reforming an entrenched state development system that he says badly needs an overhaul.
He might want to ramp up his development plan after this demoralizing showing on home soil, with the Venezuela defeat giving China a record of one victory — over the Ivory Coast — against two losses.
Coach Li Nan said China never fully recovered from Monday’s crushing 79-76 overtime defeat to Poland.
“We tried to get our mentality right, to play with confidence, but something was left over from that game,” he said, calling the Venezuela defeat “a very tough loss”.
Even neutrals had expected the hosts to successfully negotiate a weak Group A, where Venezuela joined Poland in the last 16, while a public of 1.4 billion was as expectant as ever.
China, ranked 30th in the world, placed their hopes largely on the shoulders of a towering front court of three seven-footers: Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin.
But the hosts were never really in the game against the sharp-shooting Venezuelans, ranked 20th, and China trailed a daunting 33-22 at half-time.
They made inroads on that deficit at the start of the third quarter and late in the fourth, getting within seven points, but the comeback fell short in front of the watching Yao and thousands of deflated red-shirted spectators.
Because of the format of the World Cup, China’s tournament is not over and they will now need to rally themselves to compete in a low-key classification round with Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying in play.
“Venezuela is a very experienced team but we don’t have time to dwell on the loss because we still have games to play,” said Chinese guard Fang Shuo.