Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) president Yao Ming has said China’s goal for this year’s FIBA World Cup is qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. So with the draw finished Saturday, how far away is the road to Tokyo for China’s men’s basketball team?
According to FIBA rules, the top African finisher, the top two Americas finishers, the top two European finishers, the top Oceania finisher and the top Asian finisher in the World Cup will gain automatic entry into the Olympics.
Eight countries — China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Iran, Japan, Jordan and the Philippines — will represent Asia/Oceania in the 32-nation World Cup.
In qualifying for the Olympics, Australia and New Zealand will be reclassified under Oceania, leaving China, South Korea, Iran, Jordan and the Philippines to fight for the Asian ticket with 2020 Games host Japan assured of a berth.
During Saturday’s draw, China was placed in Group A with 20th-ranked Venezuela, 25th-ranked Poland and 64th-ranked Cote d’Ivoire.
Host China is now ranked 30th in the FIBA rankings.
Historically, the host country always has some advantages and can achieve better-than-expected results. In the 2002 FIFA World Cup, soccer’s flagship event, host South Korea made history by reaching the last four, while in FIBA 2010 World Cup, the incredible passion of the home fans carried host Turkey into the final.
Meanwhile, the luck of the draw will to some extent play a role in determining how far a team goes in the race for Olympic berths.
China is in a comparatively lucky group, with a high hope of beating at least two teams in Group A to reach the second round.
Sixteen teams in the second round will then be divided into four groups, with the top two from each group reaching the knockout stage.
If China reaches the next round, and other Asian teams don’t, then China wins the ticket to Tokyo.
If China fails, and another Asian team climbs to the next round, the road will be very hard as China has to fight for one of the four remaining berths in the world through another round of tough Olympic qualifications.
In FIBA’s latest Asia/Oceania rankings, Australia is first, with Iran second, China third, the Philippines fourth, and South Korea the fifth.
Iran and South Korea are always strong while the Philippines, with former NBA player Andray Blatche having a wonderful performance at a recent qualifying match, is also a contender that we cannot neglect.
If all the Asian teams fail to advance in the World Cup, those bottom two teams in the groups will also have to fight for new FIBA rankings.
So, on the road to the Olympics, every match counts.
(The author is the World and Sports editor of Shenzhen Daily.)