Israel defeated Ukraine 68-63 in Kiev on Wednesday to all but secure a place in Spain for the final phase of the additional qualifying tournament.
Meir Tapiro scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Yaniv Green also hit some big buckets as the Israelis put away a Ukraine side that must now travel to Denmark on Saturday and try to avoid a big defeat which could sentence them to a place in the relegation tournament.
For Israel, the situation is much brighter.
The victory means they have won all five of their games in Group C, and because they beat Belgium by 19 points in their first encounter in Group C, they would have to suffer a major collapse in their second and final game against the Belgians to miss out on going to the next phase.
The Israeli players, and their fans, will be confident of making it to the EuroBasket 2007 finals as well.
They won the additional qualifying tournament two years ago to reach Belgrade, where they then managed to advance from the group stage before losing to eventual champions Greece.
Israel coach Zvika Sherf, hindsight suggests, must have been hoping his side would play in the additional qualifying tournament as they clearly know how to cope with the pressure.
Sherf was in charge of the Israel team that pulled off the feat in 2005.
|Yotam Halperin had 19 points for Israel|
Hosts Ukraine had just levelled the scores at 54-54 with Rostyslav Kryvych’s three-pointer 43 seconds into the fourth quarter when Tapiro and Green took over.
Tapiro, a 1.92m guard, nailed a jump shot for a 56-54 lead, and then Green added two free throws and a jumper to stretch the advantage to six points.
When Kryvych reduced the arrears to 62-57, Tapiro made another jump shot to extend the lead back to seven.
Center Serhiy Lishchuk stepped outside and buried a three-pointer to trim the deficit to 64-60, but 32-year-old Tapiro replied again with another jump shot.
That last bucket took the wind out of Ukraine’s sails, but Tapiro added two more free throws to complete an impressive fourth-quarter performance.
Yotam Hamperin led Israel with 19 points – 12 of them in the first half.
Israel plays at Belgium on Saturday, when Ukraine also travel to Denmark.