Four teams are now vying for coveted spots in the FIBA World Cup semifinals.

After ten days of intense competition, encompassing two rounds and classification phase games, the FIBA Basketball World Cup has entered its thrilling knockout stage.

The quarterfinal line-up includes the basketball powerhouses of the USA, Italy, Serbia, and Lithuania, alongside Germany, Latvia, Canada, and Slovenia.

All eyes are fixated on the youthful and exceptionally talented American team, a crowd favorite, as they prepare to take the court for the first quarterfinal match at the Mall of Asia Arena today.

In the marquee event of the double-header, the USA will face Italy at 8:40 p.m., while Lithuania and Serbia will kick off the proceedings at 4:45 p.m.

The American squad’s resilience will be put to the test following their first tournament loss, a hard-fought 104-110 defeat to Lithuania on Sunday. Coach Steve Kerr sees this setback as a valuable learning experience as they strive to surpass their country’s quarterfinal finish in the 2019 edition of the tournament.

The USA secured the second spot in Group J with a 4-1 record, trailing the undefeated Lithuania at 5-0. Kerr acknowledged the strength of their opponents, saying, “It’s a great game for us to experience. This is FIBA. There are great teams that have continuity, that understand what they are doing, they execute. Lithuania was brilliant tonight, they deserved to win.”

Kerr, a nine-time NBA champion, is not accustomed to losing and admitted, “I hate losing, I’ll probably won’t sleep much tonight.” However, he emphasized the importance of using this defeat as a catalyst for improvement, saying, “But for us to get better, we needed to feel this, we needed to bond the way we did. And the next game, we have to start the way we did in the second half. We can’t ease into the game at all. So I’m hoping that this is a lesson and we get better from this.”

Lithuania capitalized on their efficient three-point shooting and size advantage in the paint, led by New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas. Despite a spirited comeback led by Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards, the Americans fell short in the final quarter.

Looking ahead to their match against Italy, the USA aims to avoid another sluggish start. Italy, making their first quarterfinal appearance in 25 years, has undergone a significant transformation since the 1998 World Cup, where their current coach, Gianmarco Pozzecco, was still a player.

Pozzecco remarked, “There is no comparing 1998 and now. It was totally different. I have so much respect for all my teammates who played for me or I played with them. And coach Bogdan Tanjevic, who is one of the best people I have ever met. But there is nothing to compare.”

Italy secured their place in the quarterfinals with a convincing 73-57 victory over Puerto Rico on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, marking a memorable 200th game for veteran Gigi Datome with the Italian basketball team. Italy topped Group I with a 4-1 record.

While the Italians savor their first quarterfinal appearance in a quarter-century, they have their sights set on going even further in this World Cup, hosted by the Philippines. Giampaolo Ricci, a forward for Italy, expressed their collective aspirations, saying, “We want to just enjoy the moment because in the last 25 years it’s never happened. We will enjoy this moment but we will keep dreaming.”

Forward Nicolo Melli added, “It’s a big achievement, so we have a day to enjoy it. And then we will refocus and get ready for the next game.” (ai/mnm)