U20 European Championship
|Nikola Mirotic is so much more than simply the tournament's top scorer, as almost everything Spain does on both offense and defence is built around him|
The big stage is set and ready for the title game of the U20 European Championship of 2011 as the hosting side of Spain will take on Italy.
The senior team of Spain has won the World and European titles already.
The U16 captured already two gold medals, while the U18 stepped on top of the podium at the exact same times.
The U20 team of Spain has won already eight medals - three silver and five bronze - in a span of 13 tournaments, more than any other team actually, but something is still missing.
The last national team of Spain without a gold medal is the U20.
With the games played in front of their fans, and with such a skilled generation, the Spanish basketball won't get a better chance to match the only other team that won gold in all competitions - Serbia (USSR and Yugoslavia won it all before there were U20 games).
This will be the fourth chance of Spain to win the trophy after losing to Lithuania, Greece and Serbia in the past, but if you think hosting the event is a clear positive push for Spain think again.
In 2005, Russia became the first team to host and win, and in 2009 Greece was the second, but before Spain celebrate becoming the third there are some contradicting examples.
In 2006 Turkey, with future stars as Ersan Ilyasova, Semih Erden, Oguz Savas, Omer Asik and Cenk Akyol, lost the title in front of thousands of their fans in Izmir to Serbia & Montenegro.
Back in 1992, the very first championship of this kind (still as U22) it was Athens that hosted the event yet saw Greece fail in the title game with a 65-63 loss.
The team to beat Greece was no other than Spain's very own opponent tonight - Italy.
It's clear and simple Italy are the underdogs today, but that won't stop the young men of coach Stefano Sacripanti to fight for their second gold medal ever.
In case of a shocking win the U20 team of Italy will be the first youth team to win twice, as right now Italy stand on one gold medal in each event.
|Italy need someone to step up and accompany Alessandro Gentile on offense, and Nicolò Melli looks to be the prime candidate |
With their last trip to the title game being back in 1994, Italy know such day doesn't arrive on a yearly basis and this isn't a chance to waste.
Each team took a different path to the title game.
Spain is unbeaten so far, and just one team in history managed to grab the title without dropping a single game.
After some close and tough wins came a 27-point victory over Russia on Semi-Finals night and showed once again how dominant Spain can be when Nikola Mirotic and Joan Sastre are in top shape while Josep Franch is orchestrating the band.
Italy have a leader themselves in the face of Alessandro Gentile, son of a legend, but their road to the title shot had a few bumps.
Oddly enough, Italy started the competition with a loss to Lithuania, that today will play against Austria to avoid relegation, while the Italians will get ready for the gold rush.
The second loss came actually the first time Spain and Italy fought for the top, back on Wednesday night as the Qualifying Round group title was on the line.
Spain led throughout the entire game, but almost dropped it in the last seconds, yet Italy proved they can sting, with a 90-85 loss, and that's all they'll need to do tonight.
Just like in any other good game in this championship also on Semi-Finals night Italy enjoyed a great step-up from one of their supporting crew.
With Gentile focusing so much attention himself and it's unclear to the defense which is of that supporting crew will be the one needing attention as well, that makes things very hard for the opponent.
In order to win today, Italy will hope to have at least two step-ups along Gentile.
Nicolo Melli, Riccardo Moraschini, Achille Polonara, Riccardo Cervi and Andrea De Nicolao are the likely target group and for Italy the more the merrier.
Italy and Spain are two teams who like to put big pressure on the ball, to force turnovers and use that to score on the transition game easy points.
They are two teams that like to score from the arc, and do that very well.
In all these categories, and some more, Spain are among the very top while Italy, as expected, is a bit behind, yet not too far.
If Italy find the path to bring an extra effort and an unexpected step up this night can mark the end of a 19-year drought.
If not, Spain would get to complete the task and have all their national teams golden.