MANILA: China head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic urged his players to “release the dragon” after they hauled themselves back into Olympic qualifying contention with their first win at the Basketball World Cup on Thursday. China cannot win the World Cup after three first-round losses but they can still claim a qualifying spot at next year’s Paris Games if they finish highest among the tournament’s six Asian teams. An 83-76 win over Angola in the classification round in Manila put them right back in the mix with one more game against the Philippines still to come on Saturday.

Djordjevic called on his players to grab the opportunity. “I believe in them more than they believe in themselves,” he said. “We just have to continue believing in ourselves—I would love everybody to release the dragon that they have inside, that is needed absolutely.” Japan went into the classification round as the only Asian team with a win to their name and they had the chance to make it two later on Thursday against Venezuela. Lebanon, Iran, Jordan and the Philippines started the day alongside China with zero wins.

China gave a much-improved performance against Angola, recovering from a slow start to finish as comfortable winners. Djordjevic said his team “controlled the rhythm of the game”. “Today was a really important day for us, for me personally and I think for all the players,” he said. “It was to prove that if we work hard then we can compete and that’s what this sport is all about.”

A victory for China against the Philippines would still not be enough to earn Asia’s sole Olympic qualifying spot from the tournament if Japan were to win their remaining two games. Djordjevic said his team would “just go for it” regardless of the outcome. “It depends on the other teams, what they do,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait but I think we’ll be ready to play at our best.” – AFP