Hosts Le­banon bid for Asian glory

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - BAS­KET­BALL By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: The FIBA Asia Cup is set to tip off Tues­day for the first time ever in Le­banon with 16 na­tions bat­tling it out for continental supremacy.

This year’s tour­na­ment will take place from Aug. 8 to 20 and is set to be the first time that teams from across Ocea­nia, most notably Aus­tralia and New Zealand, will com­pete with Asian teams.

Among the fa­vorites to take the gold medal are none other than host na­tion Le­banon, who open their ac­count against South Korea Tues­day at 9 p.m. lo­cal time.

Led by veteran Fadi Khatib, the team will look to the younger gen­er­a­tion with the likes of 22-year-old Wael Arakji, Amir Saoud and Ali Haidar. Newly nat­u­ral­ized player Norvel Pelle will also fight to prove his worth and give the Cedars the in­side pres­ence they need to beat teams in their group like South Korea, Kaza­khstan and New Zealand.

Le­banon last won the Asia Cup in 2007 and the hosts will look to re­peat that feat and re­turn to their former po­si­tion as a re­gional bas­ket­ball pow­er­house. Former Lithua­nia head coach Ra­mu­nas Bu­tau­tas will lead the Cedars this year.

“There is no doubt that we are all count­ing on our na­tional team to per­form up to ex­pec­ta­tions in a team that I can call the ‘Dream Team,’” Le­banese Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Pierre Kakhia said.

Kakhia added that a tech­ni­cal staff has said this year’s na­tional team is one of the best to don the red and white. “We have nor­mally played for sec­ond place, so hope­fully this time we will be play­ing for first,” he said.

All games will be played at Kes­rouan’s state-of-the-art Nouhad Naw­fal Sports Com­plex with a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of 8,000.

Asked what the event would mean for Le­banese bas­ket­ball as a whole, Kakhia said it would lift the level, qual­ity and aware­ness of bas­ket­ball do­mes­ti­cally.

“There is no doubt that we have to work hard af­ter the event to se­cure the in­vest­ments used on the in­ter­na­tional level in order to trans­fer it to a bet­ter lo­cal league,” he added.

Four brack­ets will di­vide the 16 teams, with Group A fa­vorites Iran at No. 25 in the FIBA world rank­ings. Group B fa­vorites, and No. 1 in Asia, China are ranked 14th in the world. Group C will be a tough bat­tle be­tween New Zealand, South Korea and Le­banon, with New Zealand en­ter­ing the tour­na­ment as the No. 20 team in the world. Group D in­cludes tour­na­ment fa­vorites Aus­tralia, who are No. 10 in the world.

The tour­na­ment is ex­pected to draw thou­sands of fans from all over the re­gion as well as scouts from for­eign leagues look­ing to bol­ster their club teams.

From Aus­tralia alone, 6,000 fans made the trip for the tour­na­ment.

“We know this for sure, that many of them came for va­ca­tion and de­cided to stay for the tour­na­ment,” Kakhia said.

In ad­di­tion to the fans, every team has 12 play­ers on its ros­ter, plus an­other 15 or more in its del­e­ga­tion.

As for me­dia, Kakhia said eight in­ter­na­tional TV sta­tions made the trip with their crew to broad­cast and serve the event.

The teams and staff, in­clud­ing the Le­banese Na­tional Team, will be stay­ing at the Hil­ton Habtoor Ho­tel in Sin al-Fil.

Le­banon squad: Nadim Souaid, Jean Ab­del­nour, Amir Saoud, Wael Arakji, Elie Rus­tom, Charles Ta­bet, Ali Haidar, Joseph Abiza­khour elChar­touny, Bas­sel Bawji, Fadi Khatib, Ali Mezher, Norvel Pelle.

The Cedars will have a tough fight in Group C, which in­cludes world No. 20 New Zealand.

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