New Zealand will face Brazil in their opening game of the FIBA World Cup at the Gymnasium of Youth Olympic Games Sports Park in Nanjing.
New Zealand enters the tournament as the lowest ranked team in their group. Aside from Brazil and themselves, Group F consists of Greece and Montenegro. Greece is the highest ranked side as they currently sit in the 8th spot of the FIBA rankings. Brazil is second in 12th spot, and Montenegro are ranked 28th. New Zealand brings up the rear as they are ranked 38th in the world.
In the history of their team, New Zealand has qualified for the World Cup just five times. They achieved their best finish in 2002 when they finished fourth. In the last edition in 2015, they finished in 15th place. New Zealand’s record in the Olympic Games also tells a similar tale. They have failed to impress on the bigger stages in general.Embed from Getty Images
This time the Tall Blacks will be coached by Paul Henare. He will have a deep pool to choose for his final squad. The current group of players will take part in the training camp, and 12 will be selected from those which will form the final team. Henare knows that he has to make some tough choices. “We have arguably the most amount of talent we have had across all positions that we have ever had,” he said. “It makes the final selection tougher and choosing the final team will not be easy, but that is a good problem for me as a coach and for the selection panel to have.”
Brazil is not the team they once were, but they are still a tough team to play against. The South American nation dominated the game in the 1950s when they won two straight World Cups. Since then the USA has dominated, but Brazil has not been far behind. In the last edition of the World Cup, they finished 6th, losing just two games in the tournament.Embed from Getty Images
They have continued to impress in continental tournaments. Brazil won the Pan American Games in 2014 and finished as runners-up in the FIBA South American Championship in 2016. Veteran Anderson Varejao will lead their charge yet again. Many thought that the center would retire after a long career with the national team. But at 36 years of age, he will play what could be his last major tournament for Brazil. He averaged 11.6 points, 8.3 rebounds: 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks throughout the qualifiers.
New Zealand vs Brazil Prediction
Brazil will go into this game as the favorites. They have experience on their side, as well as players of NBA caliber. New Zealand has little experience at this level, and they should fall to the higher ranked team. Both teams should score more than 50 points, but the Tall Blacks will come up short. Brazil should get the win by a points margin of 10 or more.