|Gilas can still sneak into the FIBA World Cup next year, but its fate is not anymore in its hands. Rick Dela Cruz (file photo)|
By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA--Gilas Pilipinas suffered a huge blow in its quest for a second consecutive qualification in the FIBA World Cup over the holiday weekend as it fell both to Kazakhstan and Iran at home during the fifth window of the Asian Qualifiers.
But Gilas fans should remain optimistic that the Nationals will make the cut to China next year as they still actually have a shot of doing so.
However, they may need some help in the sixth window this February.
Here's where we stand: Gilas is now in fourth place in Group F at 5-5 with Japan, which swept its own fifth window assignments at home, now in third at 6-4.
The rule states that the top three teams in the each of the second round groups (Groups E and F) and the highest fourth placer will join China as the Asian representatives for the FIBA World Cup.
The only way for Gilas to make the FIBA WC without any complication is by finishing third in Group F. However, it can only happen if it sweeps its road games against Qatar and Kazakhstan and if Japan loses to at least one of Iran and Qatar in its own set of road games.
Gilas can still take third even if it loses one game in the sixth window, but it can only hope that Japan loses to both Iran and Qatar away from Tokyo. Any scenario other than the two aforementioned will mean Japan will take third.
However, Gilas can still make the World Cup through the backdoor, that is, by being the "best" fourth placer.
But Gilas will have to seek some help from an unlikely ally: no less than next year's host nation itself.
A clause to the "Top 7" rule states that if China, which opted to join the WCQ, ends up inside the Top 4 in Group E, the fourth placed team in Group F will also qualify.
Currently, China, which has won its last three games at home including routs against Syria and Lebanon, is tied with Lebanon for third and fourth places in Group E at 6-4, a full game behind fifth-placed Jordan (5-5). The 72-52 mauling of China against Lebanon on Sunday night in Foshan forced the deadlock with China owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
China will visit Jordan and Syria in the sixth window, while Lebanon will host New Zealand and South Korea, which have already qualified for the WC alongside Group F leader Australia. Jordan also has New Zealand coming up.
A win by China at Jordan on Matchday 11 will surely give the former a Top 4 finish in Group E, which means the Group F fourth placer can join as well.
However, with the way things are looking in Group E, China may finish inside the Top 4 anyway.
Still, Gilas must do its job in Window 6, especially in its last assignment at Kazakhstan, which could loom to be the deciding game on which team will take the last ride to China.
Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno