The Indonesian men’s basketball team faces an uphill battle to earn a spot at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup – and by extension the 2023 FIBA World Cup – following two losses this weekend, one against South Korea, 109-76, and the other against the Philippines, 100-70.

The results align with the vast gap in regional ranking between Indonesia and the two countries. Placed in Group A in the Asia qualifiers alongside Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, Indonesia was aware that it would take a miracle to prevail against the two basketball giants.

South Korea is the team with the highest FIBA world ranking in Group A, standing in 30th place, followed by the Philippines in 31st. Indonesia, meanwhile, lags in 88th place while Thailand trails at world number 105.

National team coach Rajko Toroman said previously that beating Thailand was the most reasonable target for his team.

“The Philippines and South Korea have a very strong national league. The players are coming from the league, so it is hard to beat them,” said the Serbian coach.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the FIBA Asia Cup and the third-place teams in all six groups will fight over the remaining four places in the 2021 event. Indonesia is eyeing a third place finish in the overall standings by beating Thailand in the qualifiers.

Coach Toroman acknowledged that the absence of two team members had been a major cause of the team’s losses. Brandon Jawato and Lester Prosper have been undergoing a naturalization process since October of last year and were unable to play.

“We have two guys Brandon and Lester. [If we can play them] maybe we can be more competitive,” he said during the post-match press conference on Sunday night.

“That’s the only thing we can do. But don’t forget that Thailand is a very strong team. We still are not the strong team in the national competition, but we [will] make [one],” he added.

Thailand, meanwhile, lost their first qualifier game against South Korea on Sunday by a small margin, 93-86.

A day before the first set of qualifiers, Indonesian Basketball Association (Perbasi) chairman Danny Kosasih said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had signed a recommendation letter on behalf of the two players and that they were waiting to be summoned by the House of Representatives to continue the naturalization process.

The soon-to-be naturalized players are considered crucial as the Indonesian team lacks tall players, an issue that has been raised by Toroman a number of times. The height of players on the national team hovers around 180 centimeters.

However, it was players below 180 cm in height that had the best performance in the qualifiers. Abraham and Andakara Prastawa Dhyaksa, both below 180 cm, proved that height wasn’t everything as they scored the most points in the match against South Korea and the Philippines, respectively.

“What we have to do is to improve our aggressiveness. That’s the main point. But I have to say, we are looking different, especially with Brandon [Jawato]. Brandon is giving us aggressiveness. We need that on the court,” Toroman said.

In the match against Indonesia, South Korea did not benefit from its own naturalized player, Ricardo Ratliffe, as he had suffered an injury. The Philippines was strengthened by new faces as they gave their junior team members the opportunity to get competitive experience.

Abraham, who was taken off the team’s roster in the qualifiers due to his attitude in a press conference after Indonesia lost to South Korea, said Perbasi had not established a sufficiently competitive domestic basketball environment.

“The coach [Toroman] talked about us playing against a team that was 50 levels beyond us in terms of world rankings. However, for me, instead of looking for scapegoats or [blaming] the lack of naturalized players, it is more important to look at our development and competition system, which needs an upgrade,” Abraham said.

“People can say that FIBA’s rankings are just numbers, but statistics never lie,” said Abraham.

The second set of qualifiers will be held in November and the last set is scheduled to take place in February of next year.