By Jared Grellet
|Etienne Ory added 8 points for France and dished out 6 assists while also coming up with 6 steals|
Turning Point: Salem Mana comes off the bench to inspire a 24-3 run in the third quarter, seeing France go from trailing 31-42, to be leading 55-45.
Game Hero: Salem Mana for the eight points he provided, including two three-pointers on the 24-3 run.
Stats Don't Lie: France picked up 14 points from the bench whilst Croatia only managed three.
The old adage that defense wins championships came one step closer to being true for France at the Dadu U16 European Championship as the tournament's best defensive outfit clung on to defeat the best offensive outfit, Croatia, 67-64.
Trailing by 16 points in the second quarter, France dug deep in the second half as Croatia began to visibly tire, with Croatian head coach Hrvoje Vlasic insisting on sticking with a seven-man rotation whilst his French opposite Tahar Assed-Liegeon relied on fresh legs off his bench to lead his team home.
France have easily been the best defensive outfit in the opening two rounds but that did not appear to be the case early on as Croatia began the game on a 17-2 run. Marko Arapovic was making his presence felt from the start, picking 11 points in the opening quarter.
However, as the game progressed, the big man faded considerably, only producing another five points all night despite playing for the entire 40 minutes.
France began to pull back some points in the second frame but it was still Croatia doing it comfortably at the break, leading by nine.
Failing to make a stat in three minutes of playing time in the opening half, Mana's fresh legs proved a game-changer early in the second frame as the guard exploded, scoring eight points, as well as picking up two assists and a steal.
Croatia stayed close in the final quarter but were let down by some poor decision making, and their typically reliable shooting. Trailing by three with 75 seconds to play, the Croatians only managed to get off two more attempts and failed to foul the French with the clock counting down, ruining any chances they had of completing a three-peat of championships.
10 of the 11 players used by the French finished with points, but none made it into double figures, exemplifying the notion of teamwork. Antoine Wallez picked up nine points and eight rebounds whilst Lucas Dussoulier managed nine points and seven rebounds.
Leon Tomic and Marko Arapovic both scored 16 for Croatia.
France now meet Italy in Saturday's first semi final