MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines’ vaunted "sixth man" will be locked out of the venue on Monday evening when the national team takes on Qatar in the second round of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
The game, to be held at the Araneta Coliseum, will be behind closed-doors -- a consequence of the Philippines’ brawl with Australia last July in the Philippine Arena.
It will surely create a different atmosphere inside the Big Dome -- one that Qatar is already bracing for.
National team coach Yeng Guiao has done all he can to prepare the squad for the strange sight -- even though it will also be his first time to play in such an environment.
“It's the first time that we are going to play in an environment such as that, but you also have to prepare yourselves mentally, kasi first time mong makikita 'yung ganun,” said Guiao.
“But I've already more or less briefed them and asked them to visualize it and prepare themselves for such an occasion, where you're playing in an empty stadium,” he added.
The Philippine national basketball team has traditionally drawn strength from the crowd whenever it plays, and fans have lifted up the spirits of the squad whenever they fall behind, and buoyed them into making comebacks.
Against Qatar on Monday, however, that will not be the case.
“Walang magchi-cheer sa’yo,” said Guiao. “You cannot look for that hometown crowd that will energize you and encourage you. That's going to have to come from themselves.”
Yet Guiao is also certain that the Filipino fans will still find a way to make their presence felt. Viewing parties are already in the works, most notably in Eastwood. The national team coach expects that the fans will find a way to keep up with the game, if not through television then through livestreaming or radio.
“We’re hoping that even if the crowd is not there, we will feel the crowd because we know they’re all watching,” said Guiao.
“We will feel them. We know that they are there and supporting us,” he added.
For the players, competing in a closed-door game will be a unique experience -- but they insist it is not one they are dwelling on. Instead, all of their focus is on Qatar, as they seek to bounce back from a tough outing against Iran last Thursday.
“We’ve just been talking about Qatar,” said Alex Cabagnot. “On our end, we’re just thinking about Qatar and their players and their capabilities and their skills and all those certain things.”
“We just really need to focus talaga. We still have each other naman to get whatever motivation or energy whatsoever,” said Japeth Aguilar.
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