Spain’s reign as world champions is over, dethroned by Serbia as the holders exited in the quarter-finals after a dramatic 92-89 defeat. They will meet hosts Turkey, who spanked Slovenia 95-68, in the semi-finals on Saturday.

But what a battle it was as the Spaniards lost their grip on their global crown, the runners-up of last year’s Eurobasket final taking their revenge in a game that will be regarded as a classic.

Serbia came out hot – and kept the heat up. They got the rewards they ultimately deserved to progress, sparkling with verve and intensity, fighting off a late charge from their rivals to take their place in the last four.

“This is the first world championships for almost everybody,” said Marko Keselj, who was joint top-scorer for Serbia with 17 points. “We’ll make everybody believe with this victory. Winning against the European champion is a big thing for this generation.”

Nemanja Bjelica hit 11 points in the first quarter as Dusan Ivkovic’s young side began energetically, running Spain up and down the court, and using their inside advantage to the max as a 7-0 burst propelled them in front.

Then Novica Velickovic took his chances from outside as the Serbs moved 25-18 ahead, draining 10 of his 17 points in the opening stanza that ended with his team 27-23 ahead.

Only Juan Carlos Navarro, who landed a game-best 27 points – was keeping the holders in touch. The Spanish were lacklustre, struggling to ignite a spark. Fran Vazquez filled up the middle defensively but there were holes elsewhere. It only illustrated the value of Pau Gasol to his country as the LA Lakers forward watched on from the commentary position.

Without him, the Spaniards looked mortal. Nenad Krstic bullied Marc Gasol inside and the pestering of Milos Teodosic confined Ricky Rubio to obscurity as the Serbs pushed away.

Teodosic hit a three that extended the gap to 40-32 with 5.46 left in the second period and the bombardment continued until Krstic converted an offensive rebound to make it 49-41 at half-time.

The Serbs simply looked hungrier. Spain looked weary, a golden generation empty without its emotional leader. But suddenly they woke up after the interval, hitting 10 unanswered point to take their first lead. Back and forth the advantage went, Kristic again having the last word as Serbia grabbed a priceless 67-64 cushion entering the final period.

The 300-strong group of Serb supporters in the upper tier urged their compatriots forward. The Spaniards countered. Sixth men were in every corner, willing for a killer blow to be landed.

Dusko Savanovic and Keselj extended the gap to eight at the start of the fourth and Sergio Scariolo’s side were left to play a desperate game of catch-up. Rudy Fernandez emerged to cut the gap to 79-76 with 5.19 remaining. Bjelica hit a three. And when Savanovic made it 86-78 with four minutes left, the Serb bench erupted. But it was still too soon. The kings were not giving up their throne without a fight.

Teodosic left Spain's reign in tatters (FIBA)

A 6-0 run from the Spaniards forced Serbia into a time-out and on the in-bounds play, they patiently worked an opening until Keselj was given an uncontested three. Navarro, carrying the load, went to work again. A three back. 89-87.

Both sides turned over possessions as the nerves increased, both capable of throwing their hopes away. Navarro picked out Gasol for a simple dunk that drew Spain level with 25 seconds left.

Serbia gathered themselves in the huddle. Ivkovic has seen them grow and mature over the last three years. He sent them out to claim their moment and, with Scariolo opting not to instruct his team to foul, Teodosic plunged the dagger with 3 seconds left, hitting a three-pointer from the top of the key.

Spain had one last chance but Jorge Garbajosa, who had 18, fumbled the ball and it was over.

“It is the hardest thing to lose a game like this at the final buzzer,” said Scariolo. “Right now it looks tougher but I am very proud of my players. We took bad shots and they ran with the ball and were accurate. We showed some very nice runs and we came back at the end but fell short. The shot by Teodosic was really from downtown and this (Serbia) is a better three-point shooting team than last year.”

The champions are out. The young guns move on.

“We knew that Spain has a group of great players,” said Teodosic. “We knew that if we could play tough and aggressive we could beat Spain. It’s very difficult to forget this game but we have to do it in order to prepare for the semi-finals in two days.”

Turkey 95-68 Slovenia

Home advantage paid off at a boisterous Sinan Erdem Dome as Turkey obliterated Slovenia 95-68.

And on this form, they could well be back here for the final on Sunday night if they get past the still-impressive Serbs in the semis, 24 hours before. Buy ear plugs early is the advice. The Turks look on a mission after casually destroying their quarter-final opponents with breathtaking ease, led by 19 points from Ersan Ilyasova.

Ilyasova hit 19 points to spark Turkey (FIBA)

Even with the decibels going off the scale, Bogdan Tanjevic’s men made plenty of noise of their own. At times, it seemed like they could not miss. Wherever the USA coaching staff were watching, they will have taken heed.

In the first half, the hosts shot 10/14 from 2-point range and 8/11 from further out. They led 50-31. In truth, they never looked in danger of being caught once Kerem Tunceri put them ahead in the fourth minute.

“We played an excellent game,” said Tanjevic. “I think my players fought really hard. This was our strongest performance of the tournament. I’m really proud of these guys. It’s historic for our team to make it to the semi-finals. They have never done it in this tournament before. We will see how we can do against a great great team of Serbia. They play fantastic basketball.”

A 10-0 run to close the opening quarter left Turkey 27-14 in front. Slovenia, Eurobasket semi-finalists last summer, had no answer. They turned to Primoz Brezec inside but the Milwaukee Bucks centre could not carry his country alone. Turkey’s perimeter defence was outstanding. And on that rock, they built a massive cushion.

Their passing was exquisite. At one point, Semeth Erdem casually shoved a no-look pass to Ilyasova in the corner for a trey that extended the lead to 41-21 midway through the second. Hedo Turkoglu pulled the strings but the new Phoenix Sun was, for once, seeing his team-mates shine just as brightly.

Down 71-43 entering the fourth, the Slovenes were charged with the task of saving face. “We tried to get back but tonight we had no chance,” admitted Slovene coach Mehmed Becirovic. He could not even inspire a late rally as Turkoglu – who ended with 10 points and 7 assists – stood by the Turkish bench, urging his colleagues to stay calm and preserve themselves as he sat out the final quarter.

Bostan Nachbar led Slovenia with 16 but his team was utterly out-classed. On their sidelines, heads were on hands, emotions numbed. Their fans huddled together for solace, two lone supporters standing in a show of faith.

There was nothing they could do. Ender Arslan fed Omer Asik for an alley-oop with two minutes left and it was the cue for an ovation to begin. ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’, cried 13000 Turkish voices.

Now Serbia await. On this evidence, few would bet against the hosts, not when they are capable of such ruthless domination.

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