By Jeff TaylorFrance left it late but finally beat upset-minded Greece on Thursday to reach the Semi-Finals of the EuroBasket Women.
Undefeated after a series of close games, Pierre Vincent's team won 51-49 and will now take on Belarus with a spot in the gold-medal game at stake.
Victory has secured a place at next year's FIBA World Championship for Women in the Czech Republic for Les Bleues and also clinched a ticket to the EuroBasket Women in two years.
"We came back in this game and we knew at the beginning it was going to be hard," said France veteran Cathy Melain, who delayed her retirement from basketball to play for France this summer.
"Greece never gives up. It was very dangerous for us. We have qualified for the World Championship and that is why we came here. I'm very happy.
"I came back for this. I am very happy for the young players because it was their first experience for them and it showed that we have a good future."
With 2:04 remaining, France appeared to be headed down the same road of disappointment that left them with an eighth-place finish at the EuroBasket in Italy in 2007.
Greece's Dimitra Kalentzou went to the line and split a pair of free-throws for a 49-45 lead.
Celine Dumerc then did something her team had done just once in the game before and that was hit a three-pointer.
Evina Maltsi, the Greece superstar, missed a jumper and France rebounded.
Following a timeout by Greece coach Kostas Missas, Florence Lepron caught a pass from Melain in the corner in front of France's bench and drilled another three-ball for a 51-49 lead.
The Greeks could have tied the game but Pelagia Papamichail missed a short jump hook and Melain rebounded.
France didn't execute on their next possession and committed a 24-second shot-clock violation, thus giving the ball back to Greece with 32 seconds to go.
Kalentzou drove into the lane and attempted to score with a left-handed lay-up just eight seconds from the end but was off target and Melain grabbed her fifth rebound of the contest.
France passed the ball around to avoid the Greek defense and allow the final seven seconds to tick off the clock, but the game had a bizarre ending.
Lepron kicked the ball up in the air, believing time had expired.
There seemed to be a delay in the buzzer going off, however, and Greece's players and coach argued that possession should be theirs.
After the referees reviewed the situation at the scorer's table, France were declared winners.
"We are really happy," Vincent said.
"Greece played the game with a lot of knowledge about our game. They worked a lot. They found a good solution to control us. I don't know how we succeeded to come back and I'm really happy."
When asked about France's next opponents Belarus in the Semi-Finals, Vincent said: "I'm thinking about having a beer and after the beer I will think about the game against Belarus."
For Greece, who suffered heart-breaking defeats in the Preliminary Round to Poland and Latvia but overcame the setbacks to reach the last eight, fifth place is still a possibility.
If they win their two classification games and end up in fifth, they too will advance to the FIBA World Championship and qualify for the EuroBasket in 2011.
Missas, who has proved to be a master of game-plans, said: "It was a very tough game against a talented team. France scored a lot of points inside the paint. We tried with the defense to try to stop the ball from going inside."
France dominated the boards, out-rebounding Greece 39-21.
They claimed 11 of those on the offensive glass.
"We missed about 16 rebounds and it's a big number," Missas said.
"Basketball is not only defense, you have to score.
"Our problem was that we missed open shots. We lost the game from a bad perimeter defense. We made a big effort and we had a chance."
Papamichail knows an opportunity to win a medal is gone, but also that all is not lost.
"We managed to make it to the Quarter-Finals," she said.
"It was a tough game. We proved that we were able to make it.
"We gained the respect of everybody because nobody thought that Greece could make it so far. We played good defense. We have two more games to do our best."
Maltsi once played for Vincent at Bourges, the French club he still coaches.
She entered the contest as the tournament's leading scorer at almost 23 points per game and had a game-high 18 points.
Maltsi was just one of six from behind the arc and five of 14 from the floor.
Styliani Kaltsidou, who will play for Vincent next year at Bourges, finished with 10 points.
Sandrine Gruda found it extremely tough to score but still had 16 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. France finished three of 14 from long range.
The French survived after committing 23 turnovers - 16 in the first half.
Dumerc ended up with five turnovers.