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Japan in Tears After First Ever Win Against European Team in FIBA World Cup

CNN — Japanese players and fans were left in tears after the country claimed its first ever victory against European opponents in the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday.

Pulling off the biggest comeback of the 2023 tournament so far, co-hosts Japan came from a staggering 18 points down to beat Finland 98-88 in front of a home crowd in Okinawa, knocking out its Group E rival.

Stars including Phoenix Suns’ Yuta Watanabe and the NBA G League’s Yudai Baba could be seen crying in disbelief as the Japanese team made history, while many fans were also overcome with emotion in the stands.

US-born Josh Hawkinson scored 28 points and 19 rebounds for Japan, while 5’7” (1.72 meters) local favourite Yuki Kawamura tallied 15 in the fourth quarter alone to seal Japan’s first win of the tournament.

It was Japan’s first World Cup win in 17 years – its last came as host nation against Panama at the then-named FIBA World Championship in 2006. Japan lost all five of its group games at the postponed 2019 World Cup held in China.

While considered a dominant basketball force in Asia, Japan has struggled to make waves globally.

And Japan’s head coach Tom Hovasse hopes the “crazy game” against world-ranked 24 Finland will thrust the team, ranked 36, into international tournament prominence.

“This was a big win for us. We’re trying to create a new standard here for Japan and this was definitely a big step in the right direction,” Hovasse told a post-game news conference.

“The guys just never gave up. It was looking kinda bleak out there. We haven’t shot the ball well in the last three or four games. The fans were amazing.”

US college prospect Keisei Tominaga, previously touted as the “Japanese Stephen Curry” and who contributed with 17 points, added, “Even when we were down 18 points, we never gave up. We knew we could still do it. We trust each other.”

Japan faces a tough test in its final group game against world No. 3 Australia on Tuesday. The winner will likely advance to the second round. Group leaders Germany have already qualified.

Japan and Australia are the only nations hailing from the eight Asia and Oceania-qualified teams to win in the tournament so far.

China, which last month naturalized NBA player Kyle Anderson in an attempt to better its World Cup chances, lost to Serbia by 42 points in its opening game, while co-hosts the Philippines is reeling from two disappointing losses.

The 2023 FIBA World Cup is co-hosted by the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia – the first time multiple nations have hosted the event.

While it is Indonesia’s first time hosting the event in any form, it is also the first time in World Cup history that the hosts failed to qualify.

The FIBA World Cup runs until September 10.

Source: Cable News Network