After all the ups and downs, flops and frights, Spain and France have survived all the way to the last four of EuroBasket. But can Les Bleus finally break their jinx and end the reign of their long-time rivals?
In 15 meetings since 2001, the French have won just twice and in the last eight clashes between two of Europe’s powerhouses, it has been prudent to bet on red. In the final two years ago, a third quarter burst took the Spanish towards a successful defence of their title.
At the Olympics Games last year, in the quarter-finals, a late run was required. And when these two teams met in a friendly last month, the French looked poised to come up trumps only to let a comfortable lead slip through their fingers in the closing two minutes.
Now they’ll try again. But they’ll have watched Spain’s ominous rout of Serbia two days ago when the sleeping giant woke up and roared mightily. “We have to play at same level as them,” said Mickael Gelabale.
“We know they’re going to be at a high level and we have to match that. We can’t let the, start like they did against Serbia. That was a big surprise for me when I saw that score. I was resting and then I woke up and saw the score on the TV and though ‘damn’. But that’s basketball. You never know what’s going to happen. We know they’re capable of doing that so we have to be careful. “
To smash the spell but to do that, they’ll surely need to give Tony Parker extra help.
The NBA All Star expects to have four quick guards all swarming in his path, with Ricky Rubio expected to be his primary challenger.
“I love to play against him,” Parker said. “He’s a great defender. He’s got great hands. It’s challenging when I play against him in the NBA. I like his game. He’s one of the young point guards coming up. When I retire he’s the one who is going to have to take care of the European point guards in the NBA.”
The Spanish are 2.00 favourites to complete a hat trick of European titles. If they play like they did in thrashing the Serbs, it could be game over for everyone else.
But it will be new ground for coach Juan Orenga, promoted from assistant to Sergio Scariolo after the Olympics. This, he says, is his biggest test.
“I’m living every game,” he said “I’m joking with you every day. I have to make the decisions, every minute of the game. If you make a mistake, the years before I just gave an idea. The head coach has to decide. Now it’s your responsibility. That’s great I like that pressure. It’s the same, but it’s different.”
Croatia, back in the last four for the first time since 1995, go into their semi-final with Lithuania with eight consecutive wins and all the confidence in the world. They’re one of the few teams who can match the Lithuanians for size but they got extra help from their backcourt in seeing off Ukraine on Thursday.
Lithuania were pushed right to the finish by Italy and for all their talent, they’re still not quite producing the magic of a potential champion. Now they will need to withstand the tournament’s biggest surprise.
“It will again be a very difficult game,” said coach Jonas Kazlauskas. “Croatia has been playing really well. Before this game tonight we rested for three days and now within three days we have to play three games, and they are a quarter-final, semi-final and after that the bronze medal game or the gold medal game.
“Somehow first we need to deal with this problem, but Croatia has to do the same. I can only say that it will be another close game and whoever is better in small details will win.”
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