MANILA: Despite losing to Croatia on the first day of the World Cup in Spain, the basketball-crazy Philippines yesterday celebrated its team’s strong showing after forcing the Balkan powerhouse into overtime.
Croatia, which boasts two NBA players, narrowly defeated the Philippines 81-78 in a Group B match in Seville.
Yet Philippine President Benigno Aquino hailed the achievement with his spokesman Herminio Coloma saying “the president joins the whole nation in sending our congratulations for showing the skill and the determination to our players”.
“In the face of stiff challenge, the Philippines fought to the last and won the admiration of the world in basketball,” he added.
The Philippine Star broadsheet’s main headline yesterday said “Gutsy Gilas pushes Croatia to the limit,” with the news overshadowing crises including the stand-off between Filipino UN peacekeepers and Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
Even the Philippine team’s head coach, Chot Reyes said in remarks aired by ABS-CBN television yesterday that “I am mighty proud of the effort of our guys”.
“We weren’t even suppose to be close anywhere to Croatia (which is) such a superpower... but that’s how our team is. We don’t look too tall at times. We don’t look like we are able to play the game,” but can still pull off surprises, he said.
Filipinos were not the only ones taken by the local team’s performance.
On basketball website Liberty Ballers, one commenter remarked, “I became a fan of the Philippines while watching the game. It was hard not to: with a bunch of guys the size of J.J. Barea (a 6.0-foot NBA player) surrounding Blatche, launching threes and trying really hard with a very passionate crowd entirely in their favour”. The team were to face Greece later yesterday.