SEVILLE, Spain -- The Philippines will kick off its World Cup of Basketball campaign on Saturday, when it meets Croatia at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo.
The game will mark the country's return to the world championships, 36 years after it last competed in the 1978 FIBA Worlds.
Gilas Pilipinas, now beefed up with naturalized player Andray Blatche, is expected to face a tough hurdle against the 16th-ranked Croatian squad.
Veteran sports analyst Joaquin Henson said Croatia boasts of five NBA draft choices, two of whom are set to play in the next season.
"They have Bojan Baljanovic, who was second leading scorer in the European championship and he will play for the Brooklyn Nets next season, this guy is a wing player who can shoot," said Henson.
"And there's the big guy, Ante Tomic who's 7'2" plays for the premiere league in Spain so they have an inside outside attack."
Gilas advantage, according to the analyst is the element of surprise.
Despite finishing second in the 2013 FIBA Asia, he said the Philippines is largely unknown in the world stage.
"Hindi pa siguro nila kabisado ang laro ng Pilipino. Medyo alam na natin ang laro ng Croatia cause they've been on the global stage for quite a bit," said Henson.
He added that it will be unwise for Gilas to play man for man against a talent laden squad.
"We're not going to beat them that way. The only way we could beat a team that is more physically superior to us is to play team defense and team offense."
Meanwhile, Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner Chito Salud said the FIBA Worlds will serve as a test to determine the country's placing among world best teams.
Salud will be among the Filipino spectators cheering for the nationals once the game begins at 12:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Manila time).
"The best basketball countries are here. We have proven that we are on top of the heap also in so far as Asia is concerned that's why we're here," he said.
"We're here to compete, we're here to find out where Philippine basketball really is at this stage and we're hoping for the best," added the PBA chieftain.
European-based Filipinos have flocked to Spain just to see their heroes play. Among them is Francis Joy, who came all the way from Italy just to provide moral support for Gilas.
"Minsan lang mangyari ito kaya dapat suportahan," he said.
"Nothing is impossible, 'yun nga, team work lang. Iyon lang ang kailangan," said Ruben Zabalia, another Gilas fan.
But coach Chot Reyes admitted that they will have uphill battle against Croatia.
"Their frontline is 7'2", 6'10" and whatever we do, we can't match with their height," said Reyes.
Gilas member and Rain or Shine player Jeffrei Chan is hopeful that they can win at least two games in the preliminaries.
"Baka may madisgraysa tayong team, the way na tinatakbo natin ngayon, medyo maganda," said Chan.
"Dadaanin natin sa bilis, 'yun lang talaga 'yung puhunan natin dito," said Marc Pingris.
Gilas Pilipinas' games will be shown via replay in ABS-CBN Sports+Action starting Sunday.
Gilas Pilipinas World Cup campaign is supported by several sponsors including Master Facial Care. With a report from Danny Buenafe, ABS-CBN News