Preview Greece vs. France

24 September 2005
By Kevin Anselmo and Simon Wilkinson

Following impressive wins on Thursday night, France and Greece will today do battle for the right to play in the gold medal game. 

The two teams know each other well, as they met in Group C. Greece won the game 64-50 in the team opening games. With that result, Greece leads the all-time head to head results 10-5. But past results are of no value this time. 

Boris Diaw (France)
Boris Diaw
France thumped the defending European champions Lithuania 63-47 to take the scalp of another favourite in this tournament for the second game in a row. Phoenix Suns swingman led the way for the French with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. 

Les Bleus had stunned Serbia & Montenegro in the elimination game in Novi Sad on Tuesday night to set up the quarter-final encounter. 

Revenge was the name of the game for Claude Bergeaud's men, as they were able to topple the side that prevented them from reaching the finals at the Eurobasket in Sweden two years ago with a 9-0 run to end the game. 

Now, France will want to serve the dish to Greece as well, after falling to them in the group stages. 

"It was nice to get revenge over Lithuania, even if they were missing some important players," said French point guard Tony Parker who finished with 11 points and 5 assists.  

Tony Parker (France)
Tony Parker
"Now we hope we can do the same against Greece. Our loss against them was our first game of this tournament, when we weren't the team we are now, so it will be a more evenly matched game and hopefully we'll come out on top." 

The opportunity to play in a gold medal game has been a long time coming for France. Not since 1949 - when they claimed silver - have they been to the finals.  

Like in Sweden in 2003, France are now just two games away from the country's first-ever EuroBasket gold medal. But the players aren't looking too far ahead. 

"We can't start thinking about the final yet. We need to beat Greece first and that will take our best effort yet. It won't be the most spectacular or high scoring of games, but more of a match-up of the two best defenses in the tournament." 

And France has certainly locked down on defense in the last two games. They held Lithuania to only 47 points on Thursday night, about 40 less than the Group B winner had averaged through its first three games.

Everyone on the rejuvenated French team is doing his part in the team's success. Diaw leads a balanced offense, with captain Antoine Rigaudeau and Parker splitting the point guard duties, while the Pietrus brothers and Mickael Gelabale are holding down the tight defense, and down in the paint Cyril Julian, Julien Schmitt and even 2.18m center Frederic Weis are more than holding their own. 

And Bergeaud supports this idea that France is completely different to the team it was against Greece a week ago. 

"In that first game against Greece, we failed to play with some rhythm. If we can impose our rhythm and a good tempo, it will be a very tough game for Greece. For us, the key is not to get into a slow game where we're walking the ball," said Bergeaud. 

Meanwhile Greece rallied from an early double digit deficit to earn a shocking 66-61 victory over Russia.  

With a victory in the semi-finals, Greece would be assured of their best finish in the Eurobasket since 1989, when they won silver, and would be one victory shy of their first gold medal since 1987. 

"It's a very big success for us to reach the semi-finals and everybody must respect these kids for what they've done," said Greek head coach Panagiotis Yannakis. 

Now, Greece will want to prove that the win over France was no fluke. 

"The two teams know one another very well," said Michail Kakiouzis. "The fact that France eliminated Serbia-Montenegro means something. We know that they like to play a very defensive style."

Theodoros Papaloukas (Greece)
Theodoros Papaloukas
For the second consecutive game, the Greeks will take on a team more athletic and talented on paper. But don't tell that to Yannakis' men. 

"We don't fear France," said  Dimosthenis Ntikouadis. "We respect them, but at the same time we see this game as our big chance to reach the finals for the first time in more than 15 years." 

Coach Yannakis believes Greece will need to be aware of France's extra incentive - avenging their loss earlier in the tournament - and match it. 

"I think the game against France will be very difficult, maybe even more difficult than if we had played Lithuania, because France is more motivated to beat us after we won the first game in the preliminary round," Yannakis said. 

"We need to play very good in defense and find our rhythm in shooting.  The Greek fans are very important for us. We owe them very much. They make us want to play better".  

At the other end of the court, Greece will need its balanced offense to be on display once again. No player averages more than 11 points per outing and the first game against France showed the scoring can come from various sources, as evidenced by Theodoros Papaloukas' 23-point performance off the bench last week. 

"Every player can come in and make a difference and the crucial shot, because everybody put their ego behind for the best of the team."

That 'team first' mentality is something Greece share with their France, and it will be a matter of which side can live up to that reputation the most which will determine the winner.


25.09.2005 - By Kevin Anselmo
25.09.2005 - By Simon Wilkinson, PA Sport

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