The dream lives on for FYR Macedonia after they moved another step closer to their second EuroBasket by holding off Bosnia-Herzegovina 73-63 on Wednesday in Menorca.
In one of the most exciting two weeks in FYROM basketball history, the team in the Balkans finished top of its additional qualifying round group, edging out Estonia after a thrilling come-from-behind victory in Sweden at the weekend.
And now Jovica Arsic’s team have won on the opening night of the second phase of the tournament with Vrbica Stefanov again pulling the strings.
Stefanov finished with 18 points, making four of six shots from the arc.
The Macedonians started red hot, jumping out to a 29-10 lead near the end of the first quarter on a Stefanov three-ball which took his tally to eight points.
Bosnia in Herzegovina, who have been in numerous EuroBasket final rounds since the break-up of Yugoslavia, fought their way back and trailed just 36-30 after a basket from Mirza Teletovic.
FYROM went to the changing rooms in front 41-30, though.
Bosnia battled bravely.
After falling behind by 14 points, they cut the deficit to 52-51 by the end of the period.
Macedonia never lost the lead, however, although BIH refused to allow them to pull away.
The decisive spurt came after Damir Krupaliga made a pair of free throws to bring the Bosnians to within 63-60 with less than five minutes remaining.
That man Stefanov again came to the fore, replying with yet another three-pointer, and after missed opportunities by the Bosnians, FYROM’s Vlado Ilievski pulled up and hit a three to make it 69-60 with 2:55 to go.
His shot took the air out of Bosnia’s sails.
They did score to make it 69-62, but got no closer.
Meanwhile, Sweden took a big step towards avoiding relegation by defeating Denmark 66-55 in the Additional Relegation Tournament also taking place in Menorca.
The Swedes got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 13-3 lead and leading 21-11 after one quarter.
“We played with Sweden for 80 percent of the game, “ said Denmark head coach Allan Foss afterwards.
“But our good spells aren’t good enough to offset our bad ones and that’s why we lost this game.”