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Arakji in awe of Syrian crowd, but it's business as usual – FIBA

DAMASCUS (Syria) – Wael Arakji was in awe of the big turnout on Thursday night in Al Riyadi’s eventual win over Al Wahda on the road to start their FIBA WASL Season 2 campaign.
The Lebanese star shared that the partisan crowd – clad, of course, in orange – that filled up the Al Fayhaa Stadium in the Syrian capital was more than what he expected.
“Beautiful crowd, to be honest,” he said during the postgame presser of their 96-67 victory to open their West Asia League title defense bid in dominant fashion.
“They were amazing,” added Arakji, who finished with 18 points. “They supported both teams. It was really special. I’m very lucky that I was able to play in front of Al Wahda fans. I’ve always heard great things about Syrian fans. It’s what I expected — even more.”

Playing in big crowds is nothing new to the 29-year-old and the rest of his squad, and that’s precisely why they were able to tune out whatever noise the home crowd made.
From the strong beats of drums to lively chants in support of the Syrian champions, none of that bothered the Lebanese powerhouse – so much so that they began the game with a blazing 17-2 start that dictated the game’s pace on the way to the wire-to-wire win.
Arakji admitted that it was one of the things that Al Riyadi discussed before tip-off, for everyone of them knew that they can never get the home fans get involved.
Al Wahda’s ‘sixth man’ had already shown how infectious their energy could be when they buoyed their team’s come-from-behind 74-70 win over Al Shorta last November 23.
“Yes. We knew we’re gonna face a big crowd, so we had to start very strongly to suck the energy of Al Wahda,” he said. “We spoke about this early in the locker room and we just did what we decided to do: We stick to the plan. And we went as planned.”
“This is why we were able to finish the game by 29 points. We played great basketball. We were unselfish. Everyone contributed offensively and defensively,” he added as a total of four players finished in twin digits, and all 10 players fielded scored at least two in the win.
Needless to say, Arakji and Co. are proud to have overcome Al Wahda and their fans en route to a winning start to their campaign. But the win meant much more for the whole squad, for it is also a step towards what they would all want to accomplish at season’s end.
“We’re here to win everything,” he said. “Last year we’re unlucky. Ali [Mansour] and I got injured in the Final 8 in Dubai. This year, hopefully, we will be injury-free, and go all the way to win the title.”

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