By David Hein
When Russia and Germany hook up Sunday night for the deciding match in Group A, the showdown will be about teamwork and not one on NBA superstadom or EuroBasket history.
Germany knocked off Russia 71-70 in the final to capture the 1993 EuroBasket title in Munich. Six years later in France, Russia got revenge with a 74-70 win to clinch the final Olympic ticket.
On Sunday, the Millenium Center in Vrsac will see a direct showdown of two of the NBA's best and most versatile players with Russia's Utah Jazz ace Andrei Kirilenko expected to have the difficult task of limiting Germany's Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
"Dirk's going to get his 27. We can't stop that. But we need to make him shoot something like 6-25," Russian point guard J.R. Holden said.
And Kirilenko will be all over the floor, as he's the team leader in scoring (19.0), rebounding (a tournament-high 12.0) and blocked shots (3.0) and averages 1.5 steals and 1.5 assists as well.
But this game will come down to how those superstars' teammates support them.
After struggling from the field in their opener against Ukraine, Russia (2-0) shot the lights out in rolling past Italy showing they are definitely worthy of status as legimate title contenders.
"We're not going to let down at all against Germany. It's important for us to find and keep our game," said Kirilenko, whose team will qualify for the quarter-finals with a victory and possibly with a close loss as well - should Italy beat Ukraine.
Two key players to watch in this showdown will be German center Patrick Femerling and Russia forward Victor Khryapa.
Russia's defence is very versatile and the 2-3-4-5 position players can all switch and the defence doesn't suffer much. But as Kirilenko admits: "If there's somebody really big then we may have a small inside problem."
And Femerling represents that problem as Russian centers Nikita Morgunov and Aleksey Savrasenko will be called upon to keep Femerling out of the blocks. With Kirilenko expected to be all over Nowitzki, Khryapa may be put on Femerling if Russia want to use a versatile and quick lineup.
Khryapa is expected to be a mismatch regardless, as he's quicker than Femerling - in a big lineup - and much taller and more powerful than German small forwards Denis Wucherer, Sven Schultze or Demond Greene.
"We're not going to run with them. But we are the type of team that can run if the chances are there," German coach Dirk Bauermann said. "They like to run and gun and shoot. But that can backfire if they don't hit those early jump shots."
And Germany (1-1) showed a lot of character coming back from the devastating opening loss to Italy to make it look easy against Ukraine.
There is a numbers game to this contest as well - as always at the end of the first round of a championship.
If Russia win, they head to the quarters as undefeated Group A winners. If Germany win by 15 points they take the group - regardless of what happens between Italy and Ukraine - and Russia would be second - meaning they play the cross-elimination match in Vrsac.
The third placed team travels to Podgorica to take on either Turkey or Croatia.