Yeng says it’s do or die

Yeng says it’s do or die

Yeng Guiao

MANILA, Philippines — Team Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao will treat the closed-door game against Qatar like a do-or-die showdown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tonight and said even without the home crowd in the stands, the familiar environment is a positive factor that could translate into a winning advantage.

“We will miss the active participation of the fans and the intimidation factor it brings,” said Guiao. “Also, the energy and encouragement that it provides when it comes to crucial situations. But we still prefer the familiar environment and local conditions that we are all accustomed to. We also will feel the prayers and moral support of the fans even if we play in an empty venue.”

FIBA ordered the Philippines’ home game against Qatar to be played behind closed doors as a sanction for participating in the Australia brawl at the Philippine Arena last July. If the Philippines is involved in another unruly incident, FIBA will re-impose a closed-door policy in the next three home contests. So Team Pilipinas is under strict observation by FIBA. Tonight, FIBA is restricting attendance to only 40 production crew, 80 from media, including international press and about 50 SBP, PBA and other official guests. The Big Dome will be a cavernous venue for the duel. Live TV airing on ESPN5 will start at 7 p.m.

Qatar was tied for eighth place with Indonesia at the recent Asian Games and won only once in three outings, beating Hong Kong, 90-80 and losing to Japan, 82-71 and Chinese-Taipei, 83-70. In the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers, Qatar has compiled a 2-5 record, defeating only Iraq twice, 77-66 and 84-79 in overtime. Qatar, however, came close to upending Iran and dropped a close 77-75 decision.

To start this fourth window of the Qualifiers, Qatar bowed to Australia, 95-43 and the Philippines was thwarted by Iran, 81-73, last week. Overall, the Philippines’ record is 4-3 and a win over Qatar is critical to improve its chances of qualifying for the World Cup. Eight teams, including China which has an automatic ticket as host, will advance to the World Cup from the 16 squads in the Qualifiers. So far, four teams have been eliminated – India, Iraq, Hong Kong and Chinese-Taipei.

Qatar has rotated 23 players in seven Qualifier games and with English coach Tim Lewis at the helm, is enlisting 10 holdovers from the Asian Games. Heading the roster are 6-6 Tanguy Ngombo, 34, 6-10 Nasser Al Rayes, 23, 6-9 Mohammed Yousuf, 35, 6-3 Mohammed Hassan, 27, 6-5 Khalid Suliman Abdi, 31, 6-2 Tala Moamer Gueye, 21, 6-9 Abdelrahman Abdelhaleem, 22, 6-11 Emir Mujkic, 20 and 6-4 Khalel Abdelbaset, 21. Three top Qatar players Trey Johnson, Abdulrahman Saad and Mansour Elhadary are not in the lineup. Lewis, 50, was a coaching consultant for a month with TNT KaTropa in the PBA last year and formerly the national coach of Thailand. He used to be an assistant coach with the Panama and UK national teams and in the NBA D-League.

Ngombo’s addition to the cast has raised eyebrows. He was among five Qatari players disqualified by FIBA for inconclusive eligibility documents at the 2011 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan. Another disqualified player Hassan is in the Qatar lineup for the game tonight. Ngombo is from Congo and Hassan from Egypt. One more player Mujkic is from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Gueye appears to be from Senegal. It seems like Qatar is suiting up at least four “naturalized” imports, clearly a violation of the FIBA rule that stipulates only one foreign recruit for a national team.

Ngombo was cited for age discrepancy in submitting birth papers to the NBA where he was the Dallas Mavericks second round pick in the 2011 draft. He has played in Qatar since 2006 so the long residence may be a reason for his reinstatement in the national squad as an additional naturalized import. Ngombo scored 36 points against Japan in the Asian Games and 14 against Australia in his Qualifier debut. Only Al Rayes and Yousuf have played in all seven Qatar games in the Qualifiers. Al Rayes saw action in four years with the US Division III California Tech varsity, averaging 13 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior. Al Rayes and Abdi hit 13 apiece in Qatar’s loss to Chinese-Taipei in the Asian Games.

Guiao said new Team Pilipinas recruits Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter were “nanibago” with the international game, shooting 1-of-7 triples each against Iran last Thursday. “Alex is totally new to FIBA while Marcio is coming back after years of absence,” said Guiao. “No other excuses. I’m sure they’ll shoot better in the coming games. We will finish games stronger with a little more preparation and tweaking of our lineup.”