The Young Cagers have been drawn in Group A alongside some tricky teams.
The FIBA World Cup 2023 is scheduled to be co-hosted by the Phillipines, Indonesia and Japan. But first, teams need to qualify for international basketball’s premier tournament. The Asian leg of the qualifiers begin on 25th November 2021. India too will be one of the teams participating in the qualifiers.
The Indian basketball team find themselves locked in a fierce battle to secure qualification. Coach Veselin Matic has described India as the future factory for Asian basketball. They are placed in Group A of the qualifiers alongside the Philippines, New Zealand and South Korea. India are currently on a high having qualified for the FIBA Asia Cup, after handsomely beating Palestine.
The World Cup, however is a different beast altogether. Here, we discuss how the qualifiers work and what the Young Cagers’ chances are:
How can India qualify?
Asia has seven FIBA World Cup slots available for qualification. The Philippines qualify as hosts and will not take up a slot. However, Japan are the hosts of the early stages of the tournament and will take up one of the seven slots. Additionally, Indonesia could also take up a slot, if they reach the quarterfinals of the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup. Therefore, the qualifiers are to decide the remaining 5-6 teams.
The first round has 16 teams, divided into four groups. The top three teams from each group will qualify for the second round. In the first round, four teams will be eliminated. India will need to finish at least third in a group containing the Philippines, New Zealand and South Korea, all heavyweights in the Asian basketball sphere.
The second round of the FIBA World Cup Asia Qualifiers will see the top three teams from each group joining to form Groups E and F. The results from the first round get carried over to the second round and the remaining teams play against each other. If six slots are available, the top three teams from each group will qualify, removing Japan and the Philippines. If only five slots are available, the top two teams from each group qualify, with the best third-placed team also making it through.
India need to finish in the top three in their group while also finishing in the top three in the second round groups to qualify.
Is it possible?
On-paper, India are the weakest team in Group A of the FIBA World Cup Asia Qualifiers. The Young Cagers are ranked 78th globally, while New Zealand (25), South Korea (29) and Philippines (31) are three of the most elite teams in Asia. Their most recent form is also a bit startling.
All three of India’s opponents played in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, which Australia won. All three made it to the quarterfinals, with South Korea and New Zealand making it to the semis. Korea won the bronze medal in the competition, while New Zealand finished fourth.
These three teams also have a rich history. The Philippines are five-time Asian champions, while South Korea are two-time Asian champions, most recently in 1997. It will be a tough task for India, who qualified for the FIBA Asia Cup 2022 by the skin of their teeth after a closely-fought win over lower-ranked Palestine. They had also lost handsomely against 87th ranked Saudi Arabia in the qualifiers.
The task at hand is huge, but the format offers an advantage to India at the FIBA World Cup Asia Qualifiers. They will need to put up strong performances in Round 1 and use that as a springboard to get a favourable position in Round 2, to ensure qualification to the ultimate tournament. It will be a rough road, especially as the Indian ballers aim to create history by qualifying for the first time in history.