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WC: Here we go, here we go

THE opening ceremonies are out of the way, the 18th FIBA World Cup tips off today with one of the title fancies Serbia facing Angola in Foshan, and NBA playmaker Cory Joseph has been confirmed in Canada's lineup for tomorrow's Group H opener against the Boomers.

That makes Australia's opening game tomorrow evening against Canada one of the most important in our international history, that is if a medal is to be a realistic goal.

FIBA's flagship event has returned to Asia for the first time since 2006, with a record 32 teams in eight groups of four tipping off intragroup play today - Poland against Venezuela following the Serbia-Angola tip off, and Russia-Nigeria, Iran-Puerto Rico, Italy-Philippines, Ivory Coast and host China, Argentina against Korea and Spain taking on Tunisia.

Tomorrow Australia tips it off against the Canucks, against which the Boomers split two warmup matches in Perth. 

New Zealand faces Brazil, then it's Turkey-Japan, Dominican Republic-Jordan, Senegal-Lithuania, Greece-Montenegro, Czech Republic versus USA, and the other big one of the day, France versus Germany.

The leading two teams in each group advance after intragroup play.

The curtain on the tournament officially went up with the opening ceremony at the Beijing National Aquatics Centre in Beijing (above), President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping in attendance, as well as President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, five national level Chinese leaders, FIBA President Horacio Muratore, the newly elected FIBA President for 2019-2023 Hamane Niang, FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis, FIBA Executive Committee and Central Board Members, the delegates of the XXI FIBA Congress and representatives from the host cities.

The USA is now a five-time champion and after winning the Worlds in 2010 and 2014, is out to create its own piece of history as the first nation to win the Naismith Trophy at three successive championships.

Another World Cup success by the Americans also would take them to a record six, leaving Yugoslavia behind on five.

Australia has never reached the medal rounds at a World Cup/World Championship, fifth still its best-ever finish.

The Boomers have four times reached the medal round at Olympic Games (Seoul, Atlanta, Sydney, Rio), losing the Bronze Medal matches to USA, Lithuania, Lithuania and Spain respectively.

Twin Bronze Medal losses to Lithuania has played a big role in the burgeoning rivalry between the two green-and-gold national teams, matched up again later in Group H play in China.

The initial groups for intragroup play, their host city, the national teams and their current FIBA World Ranking:

• Group A: (Beijing) Cote d'Ivoire #64, China #30, Poland #25, Venezuela #20

• Group B: (Wuhan) Argentina #5, Korea #32, Nigeria #33, Russia #10

• Group C: (Guangzhou) Iran #27, Puerto Rico #16, Spain #2, Tunisia #51

• Group D: (Foshan) Angola #39, Italy #13, Philippines #31, Serbia #4

• Group E: (Shanghai) Czech Republic #24, Japan #48, Turkey #17, USA #1

• Group F: (Nanjing) Brazil #12, Greece #8, Montenegro #28, New Zealand #38

• Group G: (Shenzhen) Dominican Republic #18, France #3, Germany #22, Jordan #49

• Group H: (Dongguan) Australia #11, Canada #23, Lithuania #6, Senegal #37

Group A looks pretty soft and almost a FIBA red carpet ride for hosts China to advance.

Spain should barely break a sweat in Group C and USA should comfortably advance from Group E.

Groups F, G and H are easily the toughest - maybe not so on paper but certainly on the hardwood - and the teams advancing here will have performed right up to their fullest capabilities.

The tournament is the largest one to date, and in a format vastly expanding the geography of the competition. In total, 80 national teams took part in the Qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.

The Worlds will conclude with the Gold Medal game in Beijing on September 15.

But winning the Naismith Trophy is not all the World Cup is about.

A magnificent seven Olympic berths for next year's Games in Tokyo also is up for grabs.

Australia's tip off against Canada tomorrow is 5:30pm (AEST) and available live on Fox Sports or via Kayo Sports where you can still get a 14-day free trial.

Aug 31

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.