The last day of the Qualifying Round is upon us and though there are not many spots open in the semi-finals it does feature a titanic showdown between France and Russia.
Here's a preview of today's action.
Defending champions Serbia open play on the final day of the Qualifying Round by going up against Bulgaria at SPU. There are no semi-final places at stake in this clash as both teams have already been ruled out due to the fact that they haven't tallied enough points (at least eight) to be in a tie for second place in Group E. Serbia therefore will not successfully defend their title but will nonetheless come out and be competitive over the last few days of the tournament as they try to finish as high as possible. As for Bulgaria, their motivation will be to save face and register their first win in the Qualifying Round.
Meanwhile, Turkey face the Ukraine at the City Hall where the same situation applies. Both teams have five points each and a win for either today will give them a total of seven points, which won't be enough to be included in a tie for second place. Nonetheless, much like Serbia, these teams will look to gear up for the battles - set to take place over the weekend - that will determine the final ranking order for places 5-12.
In the first early evening game at SPU, Sweden face a must-win situation against Spain if they are to stand a chance of earning one of the semi-final berths. A win for Sweden over Spain, combined with Russia losing to France later tonight, would see the Swedes and the Russians tied for total points with eight each. In this situation, Jan Engebo's girls would go through to the last four as they hold the tie-breaker, having beaten the Russians in their encounter on Tuesday. Spain have no chance of advancing as they don't hold the tie-breaker against Russia, having lost to them last Friday. This will prove to be a tough challenge for Sweden though as Spain are coming off of one of their best performances having pushed France closer to their first loss of the competition than anyone else yet. The Swedes have the advantage of being fresh as they got to rest their key players in an easy win over Bulgaria that saw them use a now trademark three-point barrage that helps them recover from a slow start and propels them to victory. Sweden also did an outstanding job on the boards and must look to repeat that feat again.
The Slovak Republic will be playing for pride and to reward their faithful fans when they take on Poland in the second early evening game at City Hall. Like Ukraine and Turkey, the Slovakians have only five points so they are out of the running for a semi-final place. Poland will miss out too even though a win would give them the eight points required to force a tie-breaker. Unfortunately, they would lose that tie-breaker with the Czech Republic, who beat them on Tuesday.
In the last game of the day at SPU, France face Russia and the result of that game will decide who gets to top Group E. The undefeated French already have already booked their place in the semi-finals as they will finish with a minimum of nine points while Russia will get at least the eighth point they need to go through just by playing the game. France got a taste of what it is to play a very close game against Spain and they expect it to be much the same way against a Russian side that proved dominant against Serbia. Gregory Hanin's girls will need to rediscocer the fast pace that made them so successful throughout the tournament and try to push it as much as possible. Hanin admitted that his team should have looked to run more against Spain as that would have stopped them from relying on a zone defense. Also, and maybe more importantly, the French must do a better job at the free-throw line after going only 15 for 35 on Wednesday. The key for Russia will be to make their presence felt down low at both ends of the court and avoid getting outhustled.
The final game of the Qualifying Round will see Lithuania square off against the Czech Republic in Group F and the same scenario as with France and Russia applies here. Like the French, Lithuania are undefeated and have booked their place in the last four with at least nine points while the Czechs are sure to clinch their required eighth point just by getting out on the court. Lithuania got quite a scare on Wednesday as they barely avoided being handed their first defeat of the competition by the Slovak Republic. Quite simply, the Lithuanians must rediscover their shooting touch from just about everywhere on the floor. Uncharacteristically, they were only seven for 14 from the charity stripe, something which they can't let happen again. Meanwhile the Czechs should try to build on their easy win over Turkey and pounce on the shaken Lithuanians. They shot well enough from the field (19 for 38 from two-point range; 10 for 30 from three-point territory) and took good care of the ball, turning it over only 14 times. They jumped to an early lead and set the tempo, something which they should try if they are to subdue Ramune Kumpiune's side.