by Paul Nilsen
Finland shrugged off the controversy of their last gasp loss to Italy and a nightmare third quarter to overcome the Spanish conquering Serbia in another hard fought Qualifying Round game in Naples.
The 61-53 success left Coach Harri Jokela with praise for his players who he believes managed to bury the disappointment of losing to the hosts in cruel fashion.
"I told all of my players to forget about the game with Italy and the fact that we should have won this game."
"I explained that there was nothing we could do about it but only to make sure that we do not put ourselves in the position again where the game is so close in the last seconds."
"Our game plan against Serbia was to get ahead and to stay there."
"I thought my players were excellent in the first half but I am not sure what happened in the third quarter."
"We told the girls in the locker room that the third quarter would be important but maybe there was a very motivated coach and players in the other locker room too and we maybe switched off."
"However we eventually got it back for the victory and importantly I think we are now going out not just to play and learn but to win. We will win our next game."
With both teams having had tough match ups with Spain and Italy the previous night, it was maybe not surprising that both teams looked a little jaded from the outset and took some time to establish themselves in the game.
There were just three points in first four minutes before inside scores by Rantanen and Iiskola gave Finland a 9-7 advantage. Jelena Stulic handed Serbia the lead at 10-9 with a rare three-pointer, as both teams really struggled from downtown.
Six points in the period from Natasa Kovacevic inside ensured that Serbia edged ahead 14-13 heading into the second.
At 22-22 the game was all square but an inside score and back to back triples from Evita Iiskola and Emmi Leino handed Finland a deserved lead at 30-22. The Finns were playing a really impressively controlled game with plenty of drive and kicks against the Serbian zone with shooters composing themselves and with time to make their shots.
|Anette Juvonen was a real floor general in her team's win over Serbia|
Anette Juvonen was at the heart of this Finland offence, pulling the strings wonderfully well. Leino meanwhile then made one of the toughest moves of the game to open up the double digit advantage with a great move to the hoop but couldn't complete the bonus point having been fouled hard.
Iiskola was showing her class to great effect and back to back scores, a fast break and trey helped Finland to a 39-24 lead at the interval off the back of the 17-2 run while for Serbia it was a case of looking jaded after their superb efforts against the Spanish.
Certainly Serbia needed to change their defence as Finland had figured out how to bust the zone with consummate ease and it promised to be an intriguing second half.
Predictably Serbia went for a little man to man but the hugely impressive Juvonen shrugged off her defender to drill a three on the wing. Far from deflating Serbia, they trotted down the floor and got the ball out to Milica Toskovic who spotted up and responded with a triple of her own.
Both teams then had a dry spell at 42-26 before Serbia came alive in spectacular fashion to ensure a complete change in the reflection of the game. They scored the last 15 points of the quarter and held Finland to just three points in ten minutes..
With a entirely new game and Finland having had a nightmares spell, there was little doubt that the pendulum had swung the way of Serbia. Nevertheless, Finland had showed in the first half they had the offensive weapons to make another run.
Juvonen then helped deliver that hope of a second wind with her three-pointer via a nice assist from Janniina Koivunen getting Finland to a position of strength once more at 48-41. It caused Serbian coach Zoran Kavacic to call a much needed time-out.
It didn't help too much within seconds Vilma Purhonen scored from range. At 56-50 with three minutes remaining, Finland looked to have it just about under control but an outside score by Stulic changed that thought heading into the final two minutes.
Much as they tried, particularly through the powerful Brajkovic inside, Serbia couldn't find their way back and Finland overcome their third quarter wobble to safely negotiate the closing stages and secure the win.