Let’s give credit to the Iraqis. If not for the Christian Standhardinger-Terrence Romeo fiesta in the third quarter, it might have been a nailbiter in the end. Gilas survived a fourth quarter resurgence by Iraq to hack out an 84-68 victory and assure the Philippines of an automatic spot in the knockout stages where it will play the lowest qualifier from the second round—which is starting to look like Japan—and has almost assured itself of a shot at the podium in the ongoing 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.
Regardless of the result against winless Qatar in the final tiff of the group stage, Gilas is seeded in the quarterfinals.
However, the Filipinos would love to register a sweep and take the next three days of rest in good spirits knowing that they should be favored for a semifinals berth. Qatar should be easy pickings as the two nations Gilas has clobbered (China and Iraq) have already spanked the gulf coast nation by an average margin of 17 points.
Qatar was once one of the up-and-coming programs in Asian basketball.
Their heyday had them winning the bronze medal in the 2003 and 2005 editions of the tournament and were starting to become a rival of the Philippines since the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) came to be in 2007 and eventually the Gilas initiative took shape.
Back then, the Qataris paraded immensely talented cagers such as seven-foot slotman Baker Mohammed, burly playmaker Ali Saad, all-around forward Daoud Mousa Daoud and legendary scoring machine Yasseen Ismael Musa. In 2010, they brought into their fold more firepower in “discoveries” Ali Erfan and hyper athletic Tanguy Alban Ngombo—who was eventually drafted in the NBA by the Dallas Mavericks.
The following year, however, in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, the world governing body of basketball put the hammer down on Qatar as it was deemed that five of its members—Ngombo included—could not prove their Qatari heritage and the FIBA “Passport Rule” (wherein a player’s passport had to have been issued before the age of sixteen) was enforced to the hilt.
Qatar only had seven true nationals on their team and in protest of this clampdown by FIBA, then Head Coach Ali Fakhroo instructed his remaining players to keep fouling their Uzbekistan foes until six of them had been disqualified from the contest and the game had to be forfeited in favor of the Uzbeks, 27-12. They did the same thing against Iran and that game was halted in the opening canto for the same reason, with the score at 40-4.
Because of this controversy, FIBA became very stringent with its eligibility rules and insiders have called the decision “The Qatar Rule”.
Since then, their local federation has taken steps to abide by the regulations and has remained incident free.
However, their program had taken a major slide and their aging veterans (some having played for over a decade for flag and country) have lost considerable steam and the juniors program hasn’t been able to supply ample talent to bridge the gap. The Qataris haven’t been a major force in the sport since the last hurrah of Musa in 2015 where they were dispatched by the Japanese in the quarterfinals. With Musa, Baker, Saad, Daoud and the Abdullah brothers all retiring almost simultaneously from international play (Musa is now a fixture in the 3X3 circuit), Qatar is officially a team in transition, and it has shown in the two tiffs they’ve had so far in Lebanon.
Here’s Qatar’s roster:
4 Abdulrahman SAAD (21, 6’1” SG)
5 Ahmad Al-Darwish (27, 6’2” SG)
6 Mansour ELHADARY (27, 5’10” PG)
9 Mohamed Hassan MOHAMED (26. 6’3” SF)
10 Abdulrahman AL-MUFTAH (22, 5’11” PG)
11 Ali Saeed ERFAN (33, 6’6” SF)
12 Yehia ABDELHALEEM (21, 6’9” PF)
13 Mohammad Yousuf MOHAMMED (34, 6’8” C)
15 Omer SALEM (33, 6’9” C)
16 Mohamed ABDELKAWY (21, 5’10” PG)
42 Nasser AL-RAYES (22, 6’10” C)
Head Coach: Kousay Hatem KHALAF
Only Elhadary, Erfan, Salem and Mohammed are the remnants of the line-up that visited the Philippines in 2013. They have three youngsters under six feet tall and there are only 11 of them because they weren’t able to secure a naturalized player to complete the roster.
Iraq’s win over Qatar last Wednesday was deemed to be an “upset” and “historic” because the Iraqis had NEVER defeated the gulf nation in international competition. But the win by the Iraqis came as no surprise to many basketball experts because it pitted a program on the rise (Iraq) against one that is in transition (Qatar).
There were a few positives from Qatar’s first two assignments, though.
The new Saad (21-year-old Abdulrahman—who ironically shares the same full name as his predecessor), has been an offensive force for the Qataris.
Saad is a crafty penetrator who also possesses a decent outside shot. Audiences got a kick out of his duel against China’s superstar guard Guo Ailun when the two practically battled all game long. Saad finished with 19 markers on 6/17 FGs—while Guo scored 30 in the win. He also top scored for Qatar against Iraq with 21 points on 10/17 shooting.
With Erfan sliding into his regular role as rebounder/sniper, Saad has taken the cudgels for the Qataris in terms of offense and will be a marked man against Gilas.
However, after Saad and Erfan the production drops drastically with veterans Elhadary, Salem and Mohammed contributing lightly in the past two contests.
With Qatar having nothing to lose—they can’t advance anymore after the two lopsided setbacks—they make for a dangerous foe against the Philippines as they will be looking to go out with a bang.
The reality of it, though, is that Gilas has them totally outgunned, outclassed and out-experienced. Saad will meet Calvin Abueva and Gabe Norwood while Erfan will be reunited with old nemesis Japeth Aguilar (now armed with extended perimeter defensive chops). Qatar is dead last in the competition in blocks so rim protection is not presently their strength—which gives the likes of Aguilar, Standhardinger and highlight machine Raymond Almazan easier paths to the rack. They have picked it up in terms of speed—thanks to their greenhorns—but will still be hardpressed to come even close to Gilas in a track meet (and a full court defensive contest).
I predicted that Gilas would defeat Iraq by 30 points. Gilas’ biggest lead was 23 but then Iraq played an inspired fourth quarter and ended up only losing by 16. Qatar will fall by at least 30 points. I don’t think I will have many detractors on this one.
Needless to say, Gilas is well on its way to sweeping the group stage for the first time since the 1987 (finished fourth). But despite losing in the group stages in 2013 (against Chinese Taipei) and in 2015 (against Palestine), the Philippines made it all the way to the titular game.
This time around, on the verge of topping its group, Gilas may have found a worm-hole in getting all the way to the semis. After Sunday (9:00PM, Manila time), Gilas has three full days before its quarterfinal knockout match with a distinct advantage.
The path to the podium is looking bright.