Serbia & Montenegro And France Meet For EuroBasket Survival

20.09.2005

By Simon Wilkinson

Serbia & Montenegro play their most important game of this tournament on Tuesday night so far with the greatest variable factor - their fans.

Should the host nation get off to a good start against France, they will have their fans' support throughout the game. But should they stumble early, will the crowd turn on them as they did against Spain?

France too have some intangibles to worry about, most notably the poor play of San Antonio point guard Tony Parker so far in the tournament.

Parker is said to be playing with nagging injuries and has so far failed to have the expected impact for Les Bleus, highlighted by his lacklustre performance against Slovenia when he went 1-12 from the field for only two points and one assist.

Boris Diaw (France)
Boris Diaw has been France's best player at EuroBasket, but his struggled from the free throw line
He is averaging only 4.7 points per game so far in the tournament on 25.9% shooting.

Also of interest for the visitors, is whether Phoenix Suns swingman Boris Diaw has the mental strength to get himself out of a terrible free-throw shooting slump that may well have cost his team the game against Slovenia - and as a result either an automatic place in the quarter-finals or an 'easier' elimination game.

Diaw went 0-11 from the foul line against the eventual Group C winners and is a combined 4-22 from the charity stripe over the course of the three group games.

While Parker and Diaw may seem like the main culprits, the entire French team has struggled, shooting barely 40% from the field, 48% from the free-throw line and 20.4% from three point range in the group games.

The host nation got to work immediately after their win over Latvia on Sunday night as Serbia & Montenegro coach Zeljko Obradovic proceeded to watch film of France's games.

"I have the greatest amount of respect for the French team. They have shown in recent years that they are one of the best and most improved sides in European basketball.

"We played them in the tournament in Istanbul so I think we know already quite a bit about their style," Obradovic said.

"They are a very athletic team who likes to play a transition game. What we really need to do against them is keep them off the boards. They are an excellent rebounding side and the priority is to keep them from getting offensive rebounds.

"They may not be the team with the tallest players, but they see rebounding as something all five players should do and that's why they're good at it."

Obradovic's French counterpart Claude Bergeaud says France failed to live up to expectations and now are paying a huge price for it.

"We thought we could finish second in our group and thereby avoid having to play Serbia & Montenegro but it didn't work out that way.

"Now we need a miracle to get past this team. But if we can produce for 40 minutes the best basketball we've played here and there over the first three games, I say to myself 'Why not?'"

France are without a doubt the heavy underdogs in the game, as they have failed to play with some consistency in their Group C games.

Serbia & Montenegro on the other hand, fell to Spain on opening night, but have since recovered and lived up to expectations with two solid wins.

French guard Antoine Rigaudeau expects them to be tough to handle all over the court.

"They are tall and strong inside and out. They have a lot of well-rounded players who are more than capable of doing their share for the team," said the captain.

But France's Cyril Julian believes the pressure is really on Serbia & Montenegro to deliver what their fans expect - a win and a match-up with Lithuania in the quarter finals.

"They are the ones playing in front of thousands of fans in the arena, so they are the ones with the pressure on their shoulders. We're going into this game a bit disappointed with ourselves, but with nothing to lose really," said the center.

"However, for us to be able to put together the best 40 minutes possible, we'll need a lot more energy than what we've shown so far."

But Obradovic gives a final warning of his own - that Serbia & Montenegro don't expect an easy game and won't take anything for granted.

"We're in the elimination game round despite a very bad first game. The players have worked very hard to get to this point and the stakes are too high to take any team lightly. So we will be ready on Tuesday night."


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