By Sportswriters Yao Youming and Lin Deren
XI'AN, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- The 2019 Basketball World Cup Qualifiers have concluded, with 31 teams from all around the globe and the host team China set to compete in the largest-ever FIBA World Cup, to be held in eight cities in China from August 31 to September 15.
No team is unbeaten in the qualifiers, but some of the powerhouses are dominant. The USA, with its non-NBA team, topped Group E in the American qualifiers. Spain, Lithuania and Australia got through their respective groups comfortably enough.
Host team China practiced their young squad and 2020 Olympics host Japan have proven their top-level power in the Asian zone.
It will be a tough tournament for all teams involved.
The USA is, no question, the biggest favorite in almost every big basketball event. Although the strongest team in the world didn't play a first choice side in the qualifiers, they still managed 15 wins in 18 games.
However, the "Dream Team" isn't the only favorite. Argentina, who have several records including the 2004 Olympics title, was only one-point behind the USA. Argentinean veterans are still pushing the team forward. Luis Scola had 16.7 points and 8.1 rebounds on average during the preliminaries. The 38-year-old was third on the overall scoring list in the Americas qualifiers.
Both Brazil and Puerto Rico earned two consecutive wins in the last two rounds games, joining Canada, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the basketball WC finals.
With abundant NBA players at hand, it would be easy for the USA to reach the final period of the World Cup. Clearly, if they have the ambition to conquer the world again, they have to put their NBA elites on the ground.
KIRILENKO'S PROMISE FULFILLED
When Former NBA all-star Andrei Kirilenko attended the FIBA World Basketball Summit which took place here on Oct. 3-4, 2018, the Russian legend told Xinhua that his biggest goal as president of the Russian Federation of Basketball was to help Russia qualify the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The Russians experienced a tough campaign during the qualifiers. Team Russia had only ranked third in the Group K European qualifiers, sharing the same record with their upcoming opponents Finland. After that, Russia caught up and earned four wins in a row, joining France and Czech Republic to escape from the group.
"I think every team in Europe right now grew up and get to a similar level. So it's not easy any more to beat the teams," Kirilenko said.
Montenegro were defeated by Latvia 80-74 in the final qualification game, but they held off their opponents and secured their first-ever World Cup appearance.
Group winners of the final period's European zone qualifiers Spain, Lithuania, Greece and France are expected to fight for medals fiercely in September.
Naturalized players are the heroes of many qualified Asian teams such as South Korea, Japan, Jordan and Philippines.
South Korea's Guna Ra, Japan's Nicholas Fazekas, Jordan's Dar Tucker and Philippines' Andray Blatche helped their teams seize key opportunities during the qualifiers.
Free from the pressure of qualifying, hosts China gave more opportunities to young players. But rather than being a dark horse in the big event, China would rather stand atop Asia in the WC (save for Australia and New Zealand) on their home turf and secure their post in 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games directly.
African powerhouse Angola, who beat South Korea and Australia in the last World Cup but failed to enter the knockout stage, intend to make more breakthroughs in China.
Souleyman Diabate of Cote d'Ivoire will be competing in the global bonanza for the second time after a first experience in 2010 in Turkey. "The World Cup isn't the qualifiers, we need to play some good teams and prepare well. We just don't want to go there for the sake of it, we want to do something exceptional in China," the 31-year-old told FIBA.
"On FIBA's behalf, we wish to congratulate all 32 teams that have qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019," said FIBA President Horacio Muratore. "We also want to take the time to acknowledge and thank the 48 teams - and their national federations - that will not play in China but who gave their best efforts during the qualifiers. We now very much look forward to seeing history being made with the biggest FIBA Basketball World Cup taking center stage."