By David Hein
Olympic silver medalists and 2003 EuroBasket bronze-winning Italy look to continue their continental dominance against Germany on Friday when both sides begin their quest for 2005 gold in Vrsac.
Italy have never lost to the Germans in 10 EuroBasket matches. Their last matchup came at Sweden 2003 as Massimo Bulleri made four free throws in the waning moments to give Italy an 86-82 victory in the elimination round.
Carlo Recalcati's team went on to capture bronze, surprising many since his team lacked the NBA talent other squads could bolster.
The Azzurri bettered their performance at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, collecting silver.
But Recalcaiti's troops will be the hunted instead of the hunters at EuroBasket 2005.
"If we want to reach the podium again, our team ethic has to be stronger than the others," said Recalcati, whose team is in Group A with Germany, Russia and Ukraine. "If not, we're a normal team, like all the others, able to beat anybody and that at the same time can be beaten by all the others."
Italy are fighting some injury concerns as their starting backcourt of Gianluca Basile (back) and Gianmarco Pozzecco (right thigh) were both banged up late in the preparation phase to EuroBasket.
And the team has admitted it's fatigued coming into the tourney.
"We are probably the oldest team going into the EuroBasket tournament, and we haven't quite adapted to this situation," said Recalcati, who will also rely on Alex Righetti, Dante Calabria and Roberto Chiacig.
Germany and their Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki will be out for revenge for the loss in Sweden as well as their 97-79 pounding against Italy in a warmup on September 6 in Athens.
And Nowitzki will obviously be the key for Dirk Bauermann's team.
"But one player cannot win a game alone. If Dirk is covered really tough, other guys are going to have to pick up their games," Bauermann said.
A big help for Nowitzki will be the return of Panathinaikos Athens center Patrick Femerling, who was out with a knee operation.
"Patrick's overall presence makes him one of the best defensive centers in Europe and an important option in the offence;" Bauermann said.
But the 1993 European champions have been decimated by injuries, missing veteran Ademola Okulaja, Steffen Hamann and Stefano Garris.
The later two are guards, which could prove Germany's weak spot - especially against Italy's strong backcourt.
The Germans gave up 19 turnovers in their final warmup against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Germany-Italy game will be followed later Friday by the Russia-Ukraine showdown.