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Japan takes pole in Olympic race


‘These type of experiences are fantastic for all of these guys.’


Japan took a giant step towards Olympic qualification at the FIBA World Cup on Thursday, while South Sudan and Egypt also gave themselves a chance for a Paris Games berth.

Half of the World Cup’s 32 teams have already been eliminated from title contention, but seven Olympic places are still up for grabs at the tournament.

The highest-placed finishers from each of Asia, Africa and Oceania will all qualify for Paris, along with the top two teams from both Europe and the Americas.

World Cup co-hosts Japan was the only one of the six Asian teams to take a win into the classification round and they ended the day with two after roaring back to beat Venezuela, 86-77, in Okinawa.

Japan was trailing by nine points heading into the fourth quarter and head coach Tom Hovasse said “it took guts” for them to keep going.

“Great win for Japan basketball,” he said.

“We’re still learning and getting better but these are the games that it takes to continue on this process and continue getting better and better.”

“These type of experiences are fantastic for all of these guys.”

Makoto Hiejima led Japan in scoring with 23 points, followed by Yuta Watanabe with 21.

Japan also used a late comeback to beat Finland in the first round and Hovasse said the home crowd had played a big part in his team’s success.

“The fans were just amazing,” he said.

“Without them, I don’t think we win either one of these games. Their support was incredible.”

Japan will seal their place at the Paris Games if they beat Cape Verde in their final game on Saturday, but China and Lebanon will be waiting to pounce if they slip up.

Both teams claimed their first wins of the tournament with China defeating Angola, 83-76, and Lebanon beating Ivory Coast, 94-84.

Iran was eliminated from the Asian Olympic race after losing 82-55 to France, who qualify automatically for the Paris Games as hosts.

Jordan is also out after losing 85-69 to Egypt, as is co-host Gilas Pilipinas after a 87-68 blowout to South Sudan.

Egypt and South Sudan are the only African teams with two wins, putting them in pole position for the continent’s Olympic spot ahead of Ivory Coast, Angola and Cape Verde, who lost 100-77 to Finland.

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