By REYNALD MAGALLON
Gilas Pilipinas is not only setting its eyes on the Olympic berth but is also hoping to put up a strong showing that would hopefully prevent the national team from suffering the same heartbreak the last time it played in front of its loud and proud crowd 45 years ago.
Back in 1978 when the country first hosted the World Cup, the Philippines got an outright spot to the semifinal round by virtue of it being the host country. The Nationals, despite the grit and effort, however failed to capitalize on it and even failed to record a single victory throughout the competition.
Still, the team bannered by amateurs, led by Ramon Cruz along with the likes of Bernardo “Joy” Carpio, Alex Clariño, and Federico “Bokyo” Lauchengo, finished the tournament at the eighth place.
Now brimming with talent led by NBA star Jordan Clarkson along with young guns Kai Sotto and AJ Edu and PBA MVPs June Mar Fajardo and Scottie Thompson, the Nationals are hoping get past the preliminaries – a goal that has also not been done ever since the 1978 hosting.
Interestingly, standing on Gilas way is its first assignment in the World Cup, the Dominican Republic, which was also part of the 1978 edition held in Manila.
The Caribbean nation lost all of its five assignments in that tournament relegating it to the classification round where it ended up 12th overall.
A lot has changed since then as the Dominican Republic, now ranled World No. 23 is looking to improve its 2-3 record in the preliminaries back in the 2019 World Cup in China, placing 16th overall.
The Philippines, on the other hand, ended up dead last at 32nd in the tournament after dropping all of its games – a nightmarish finish Gilas also hopes to avoid this time around.
Gilas Pilipinas will battle Dominican Republic in the opening day at the humongous Philippine Arena at 8 p.m. following an appetizing clash between Angola and Italy at 4 p.m. on August 25.