For Gilas Pilipinas, the going gets tough as the end of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers nears.
Barely at third place in Group F, the Nationals look to keep spot ahead of the hard-charging Team Japan as they take on Kazakhstan and Iran in the fifth and penultimate window of the FIBAWC eliminator.
First up for the Nationals are the Kazakhs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the MOA Arena in Pasay City. They take on the Iranians at the same venue, also at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
It's a crucial stage where the Nationals virtually put one foot into world joust with a sweep or find themselves in a precarious spot with a lose or worse a twin setback.
But national coach Yeng Guiao promised the Nationals would be ready for the battle.
Making up the Team Phl roster against the Kazakhs are June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Beau Belga, Japeth Aguilar, Poy Erram, Gabe Norwood, Matthew Wright, Marcio Lassiter, Scottie Thompson, LA Tenorio, Alex Cabagnot and Stanley Pringle.
Christian Standhardinger is reserved for the Iran game.
Guiao is thankful to their tune-up games with Jordan and Lebanon where they learned a lot.
"We won one and lost three, but I'm pretty satisfied. I know that we can still improve. The room for improvement is really big. We need to adjust," said Guiao.
"International basketball is very different from the PBA. We have to execute under pressure, not the regular pressure we're facing in the PBA. It's a lot more than that. When you play international basketball, you don't have a second chance. You play and that's it. It's not a best of three, so you have to play your best each time," Guiao pointed out.
"But I trust our players. These are smart, high IQ players, the best in the country. They understand that," Guiao added.
Kazakhstan and Iran are both seasoned international teams that could well give Team Phl acid tests.
The Philippines tore Kazakhstan to shreds in their Asian Games matchup in Jakarta last August but Guiao expects the Kazakhs to be a lot tougher in their rematch.
"Probably, they will be the same. If there would be changes, maybe two or three players. Nagulat natin sila sa Asian Games but this would be a different game," said Guiao.
"This team has the height, good shooters and they're rugged. They had a bad night in the Asian Games and we're lucky. They'll be more ready and determined Friday," Guiao added.
And Guiao is well aware Iran has been a pesky problem for the Philippines for over a decade now.
"We always have a problem with Iran because they have the size, they have an NBA player and have been together for really a long time. Tayo halos two weeks together lang," said Guiao.
"When I coached the national team in 2009, the core of Iran have already been playing together. Imagine being together for almost 10 years. That's how they know each other. That's the advantage Iran has. Iran really has the chance against Australia and China. They're a tough match-up for us but we'll have the home-court advantage, baka matsambahan natin yan," Guiao added.
A sweep of Kazakhstan and Iran will solidify Team Phl's place in the Top Three in Group F, heading to the final window where the Nationals play "away" games versus Qatar and Kazakhstan.(SB)