Star point guard Wael Arakji led his country Lebanon to a deserved win against Iran, 81-73, in their final Classification Round matchup at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
After three defeats in the group stage against Latvia, Canada, and France, the Cedars defeated the Ivory Coast on Thursday and Iran on Saturday to keep their Olympic dream alive.
A regular standout performer for club and country, Arakji scored 21 points through an impressive shooting accuracy (6-of-9 field goals and 8-of-9 free throws), and added 7 assists and 3 rebounds, proving his value as the Asian MVP.
This marked a historical achievement for the Cedars as they have secured back-to-back wins in a World Cup for the first time in four participations.
Unfortunately, despite these two Classification Round victories against Cote d’Ivoire and Iran, Lebanon failed to book a direct spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics trailing behind the hosts Japan who punched the qualification ticket after defeating Cape Verde on Sunday with the score of 80-71.
Japan’s Josh Hawkinson contributed 29 points and seven rebounds ensuring his country finishes as Asia’s top World Cup performer with a 3-2 record and thus, securing a direct qualification to next summer’s Olympics.
Arakji And Haidar’s Combined Efforts
Back to Lebanon’s match, Ali Haidar, the veteran big man shouldered Wael Arakji by lifting their team throughout the match and effectively leading them to a very meaningful victory. Together, they combined to score 41 points. Lebanon managed to maintain their lead throughout the game, fending off Iran’s attempts to reduce the gap.
The naturalized pick, Omari Spellman continued his recent good form, following his poor start during the group stage matches, scoring 9 points and adding 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.
For the Iranians, Mohammad Amini’s 22 points proved insufficient to hand his country its first World Cup victory. Iran finishes its World Cup adventure with 5 defeats.
14 points and 8 rebounds were added by the 38-year-old Iranian Basketball Legend, Hamed Haddadi in his final World Cup appearance.
Haddadi, who was named Asian Cup’s MVP on three occasions in 2007, 2009, and 2013, is a former NBA player. He spent several seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies and also had a spell with the Phoenix Suns.
After his last World Cup game, the two-time Olympian Haddadi received the recognition he deserves as his teammates and the entire Lebanese team showed their love and respect.
FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournaments
Finishing as the second-best Asian team at the current World Cup, Lebanon earned a ticket to one of four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) set to be played next summer.
24 teams will compete for these coveted final four slots at the Olympic Games.
Alongside the Cedars, Egypt, New Zealand, Finland, the Philippines, Mexico, Angola, and Cote d’Ivoire will be joining the victors of FIBA Pre-Qualifying Tournaments 2023, namely the Bahamas, Bahrain, Cameroon, Croatia, and Poland at these Qualifying Tournaments.
Additionally, 11 national teams, ranked from 1st to 16th place in the FIBA World Cup, who won’t have direct qualification to the Paris Olympics, will also take part in these Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.
Lebanon’s chances are minimal, but at least, they’re still alive!