Australia, Iran, Korea and Japan all secured their place in the men’s semi-finals at the 2019 Asia Oceania Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Pattaya, Thailand, without too much difficulty.
For Australia, Iran and Korea, making the final four also means their tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are now already secured. Japan qualify automatically for Tokyo as the host country.
In the opening quarter-final, Australia took on Division 2 champions Malaysia. Malaysia were kept scoreless in the opening quarter, 22-0, as they struggled to unlock Australia’s well-run defence. They did open the scoring in the second quarter though, and put in a valiant effort against the reigning Asia Oceania Champions and World Bronze Medallists, but Australia’s superiority was evident as they held a 51-16 lead at half-time.
The depth of the Australian squad meant they could comfortably rotate all players into the game as they went on to win the third and fourth quarters, 26-11 and 15-13, and end the game clear winners, 92-40.
Brett Stibners top scored for Australia with 21 points, with Clarence McCarthy-Grogan, Michael Auprince and Shaun Norris also notching up double figures. Muhammad Azzwar Hassan Asaari scored the majority of Malaysia’s points with 17, shooting at 77%.
Iran and China faced off in the second quarter-final of the day. China’s aggressive play saw them in early foul trouble which allowed Iran to gain a slight advantage and end the first 19-12 up. It was an advantage they continued to build on in the second as they capitalised on a number of unforced errors from China to take a twelve-point lead into half-time.
As China chased the game, and the prize of a semi-final spot and a ticket to Tokyo 2020, they tightened up and it affected their offensive play. They forced shots and gave away turnovers to allow Iran to go on a 17-2 run that helped them to a twenty-eight-point lead at the end of the third. The fourth quarter was very much the same as Iran rotated their players off the bench and continued to outscore China, finishing the game winners by 84-51.
Iran’s foursome proved unstoppable again, all making double figures – Morteza Ebrahimi (23), Mohammad Hassan Sayari (18), Omid Hadiazhar (15), and Morteza Abedi (10). China’s Cao Chen (15) and Lin Yinhai (10) led their attack.
Iran will now meet Australia in the semi-finals tomorrow, a re-run of the bronze medal game from last year’s World Championships which took place in Hamburg, Germany in which Australia came out on top.
Japan dashed Saudi Arabia’s hopes in the third quarter-final of the day. It took Japan a while to settle into their game as they didn’t show their usual rhythm on offence. Saudi Arabia stayed with them until the final three minutes of the quarter when Japan opened up a little bit of a gap to finish 18-10 up. Japan came out in the second quarter with more intensity which made it difficult for Saudi Arabia leading to numerous turnovers, as the Japanese went in at half-time with a comfortable advantage of 42-16.
Japan’s fitness and intensity proved too much for the Saudi’s as they looked deflated in the second half. Japan went on to win the final two quarters with ease, 14-3 and 22-2, to finish 78-21 victors and cruise through to the semi-finals.
Hiroaki Kozai top scored for Japan with 22 points, and Abdul Rahman Bin Shaylan lead the scoring for Saudi Arabia with 8 points.
In the last quarter-final of the day, hosts Thailand matched-up against Korea, in a bid to earn themselves a spot in a Paralympic Games for the first time in their history. A strong opening quarter from Korea, 19-7, was followed up by another dominant display in the second, 21-9, as they went in at half-time with a healthy lead, 40-16.
Thailand tried to win the game from outside, throwing up 27 three-point shots during the game, but only managing to convert five of those. They did well to win the third quarter, 14-13, and they kept it close in the fourth, going down 14-11, but Korea had been more clinical throughout and knew they had the game won, so there was no way back for Thailand. Korea took the win 67-41.
Korea’s Seung Hyun Cho led all scorers with 20 points, whilst Thailand’s duo of Kwanchai Pimkorn (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Jumjarean Aekkasit (14 points and 14 rebounds) both earnt themselves a double-double.
The win for Korea means they set-up a semi-final game against Japan at 18:00.
The championships, being hosted by the Sports Association for Wheelchair Basketball Thailand, will tell us which countries from the Asia Oceania Zone will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Tomorrow is the first full day of action with 10 matches over two courts over the course of the day.
Photograph copyright – X-1