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FIBA World Championship 2006, Japan

There is plenty of reason to care about this year’s basketball world championship. Most people, however, seem unaware that New Zealand is even in it, let alone that they will be looking to improve their fourth placing from the 2002 championship, or, for that matter, when or where this year’s is. Well, I’ll get that part out of the way first: the 2006 FIBA World Championship started today, about five hours ago, and is in Japan. New Zealand did indeed qualify, and is in Group B for pool play with Spain, Germany, Angola, Japan and Panama, games in that order. Their first game starts about now, at 10:00 p.m. tonight.

New Zealand has a lot to gain from this championship. It is our chance to prove that our semi-final appearance in 2002 wasn’t just a fluke (or to prove otherwise), in what has become a truly international sport. For other countries, similar tasks hold: the United States will have to redeem themselves after their sixth placing in 2002, and Serbia and Montenegro have a title to defend—which, if the past two years are anything to go by, they won’t.

What sets this sport apart from other sports in which New Zealand excels is that this sport is one that is actually internationally cared about. We are not part of an unofficial elite group; in basketball, one does not, or at least, no longer, exists. This is not a sport which most countries brush off themselves; here, most countries are in the action. And New Zealand’s near the top—near enough to be in the world champs at all, let alone have a high chance of getting through to the round of 16. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that other sports are not to be cared about—but a truly sporting nation will back this team with an amount comparable to the sports in which New Zealand leads the world.

Our game against Spain, to be honest, holds relatively little chance of success, but the other games are slightly more promising. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this game is all American, though. In their first game against Puerto Rico, the United States didn’t take a secure lead until half time, and even then, won by eleven points. And defending world champions Serbia and Montenegro lost, that’s right, lost, to Nigeria, who are ranked twenty-seventh in the world. So really, it’s anyone’s game. Who knows? With enough backing and support, New Zealand might even make the finals.

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