by Dan Casey
|Big man Martin Peterka does it all for the Czech Republic and will be a key figure in their match-up with France|
The Czech Republic had their pre-tournament plans thrown out of the window by an illness which spread through the squad and eventually sidelined star Adam Pechacek.
Now they stand one win away from a second trip to the U16 European Championship Men Final. In their way, heavyweights France, themselves hoping to reach their first final at this level since 2005.
The Czech team have shown great nerve and confidence so far in the tournament in front of their home fans, squeezing out tight wins over Spain, Poland, Russia, Germany and Latvia with crucial plays down the stretch. But now the tournament's 4th-best offense (Czech Republic score 76.3 points per game) will take on the tournament's 2nd-best defense (France allow 56.3 points per game).
Czech Republic - Martin Peterka - 16.0 points per game (9th in the tournament overall), 13.3 rebounds per game (1st). Peterka has recorded 5 double-doubles in 7 games in this tournament, though he couldn't add to that tally as Latvia restricted the big man to 3-10 shooting. If Peterka can bounce back, the French team will have to find a defender to cope with Peterka's drifts away from the basket, possibly leaving space open for Prokop Slanina, Radovan Kouril and others to profit.
France - Damien Inglis - 15.7 points per game (10th), 9.0 rebounds per game (5th), 1.4 blocks per game (4th). Inglis is the heartbeat of the French team and he could be seen encouraging and advising team-mates throughout the tense quarter-final with Germany. A strong inside presence with a nice jump-shot, he will be aiming to hold on to the ball and avoid adding to his high turnover numbers.
Czech Republic - Jiri Soula - 13.7 points per game (17th), 2.3 steals per game (5th). Soula has been clearly inspired by the local support and often seems to provide as much energy to the fans as he receives. Lightning-fast, the guard has had a happy habit of making huge plays during the tournament, not least the four-point play in the Quarter-Final with Latvia.
France - Paul Rigot - Croatian coach Ante Nazor described France as the best team his side had played against, identifying their bench as a strength. With a number of players so far who've had significant roles and performances (down to Jean Biog and Thomas Ville), Rigot stands out as the most reliable. His trio of jump-shots in the fourth quarter of the Quarter-Final against Germany helped to turn the momentum of the game towards the French team.
Three-point shooting - the French have led the tournament in attempts (161), though only at a 28% success rate. The Czech team, meanwhile, are the 2nd-most accurate long-range shooters in the tournament, with 38-119 shooting at 32%. With the momentum of this game likely to sway as often as the crowd, big three-pointers could make a crucial difference.
French coach Tahar Assed-Liegeon: "The home crowd will be against us, but we have a long relationship of friendship with the Czech Basketball Federation."
Czech coach Petr Treml: "They have hard, physical players. We played them in April and they killed us. But maybe we have more confidence, and the crowd operating as our sixth, or maybe seventh man if we need it!"