By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno
MANILA – The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) offers free shuttle services to and from the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan for those who bought tickets for the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers showdown between Gilas Pilipinas and Lebanon on Friday night.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the SBP said that it would begin picking up ticket holders at 2 p.m. Friday at two designated departure areas — SM Grand Central in Caloocan and SM North EDSA in Quezon City.
The SBP wants the fans to pack the 55,000-seater venue for the grudge match against Lebanon, which will serve as a de facto “test event” for the FIBA World Cup itself.
The Philippine Arena will host the knockout stages of the said tournament in early September.
“The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas wants the Filipino fans in full force during the final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers,” the SBP said.
The Philippine Arena will also host Gilas’ Monday night clash with Jordan.
No Wael Arakji
Gilas fans who want to see the national team get back at Wael Arakji, however, won’t get their wish granted as the ace point guard will sit out the said game.
However, Amir Saoud is among the players to watch out for the Lebanese side coming to Bocaue.
Saoud became known for dropping 41 points for Al-Riyadi when the Lebanese league powerhouse eliminated Filipino team Strong Group in the quarterfinals of the Dubai International Basketball Championship earlier this month.
Also leading the way for Lebanon are Sergio El-Darwich and Hayk Gyokchyan.
Completing the 12 are Karim Zeinoun, Jad Khalil, Ali Mansour, Ali Mezher, Jean-Marc Jarrouj, Marc Khoueiry, Gabriel Salibi, Gerard Hadidian, and Naim Rabay.
Despite not fielding some of its best players in Arakji, Ali Haidar, Jonathan Arledge, Ater Majok, and Norvel Pelle, coach Chot Reyes remains wary of what Lebanon can do on the road.
“We’re playing, for me, the best team in Asia. Lebanon finished second in the last FIBA Asia Cup only to Australia, and Australia is not really in Asia. So for me, the number one team in Asia today is Lebanon, so that’s a good test for us,” Reyes said.
The SBP is expected to name the Gilas lineup that will face Lebanon on Thursday. (PNA)