By Yarone Arbel
What more can you ask for? As a finale to the first night of action of the qualifying round, we have a great match-up to look forward to: Greece vs. Spain - Round 2.
The defending EuroBasket champions and the world champions both made it through to this stage of the competition in Madrid having lost a bit of momentum when they suffered defeats in their last preliminary round games.
But right now all they care about is this game. Each team will have a ton of motivation to win - probably more than any other team playing tonight.
Take it as a fact of life, or a friendly tip that, if you love European basketball, you do not want to miss this one. There’s really no need to explain why.
Last Time Out: Both teams would rather forget their last games. Greece fell to Russia 61-53 and lost the top spot in Group A to David Blatt’s side. Spain meanwhile were stunned when Croatia’s Marko Tomas sank a three-pointer in the closing seconds of their encounter to hand the hosts an 85-84 defeat and, like Greece, finished as Group B runners-up in the process.
Head-to-Head: Is there really a need to recall what happened the last time these two teams met? At last year’s world championship title game in Japan, the “underdogs Spain” – without the injured Pau Gasol – went up against favourites Greece, who had eliminated the USA the night before. Spain dominated the final from start to finish, humiliating Greece in a 70-47 win to be crowned world champions.
Key Match-up: Probably impossible to pick because there are so many to choose from. Gasol v Lazaros Papadopoulos? Juan Carlos Navarro v Dimitrios Diamantidis? Jose Calderon v Theodoros Papaloukas? Rudy Fernandez v Vasileios Spanoulis? Wherever you look around this game, you see unlimited amount of talented. Both teams are deeper than any other in the tournament - other than Lithuania. Whoever comes off the bench for either Greece or Spain is a great player who can have a big influence on the game. So having to choose just one match-up is not fair.
|Rudy Fernandez has been crucial to Spain's|
fast-pace offense and must continue to do so
Statistics: These two teams come from totally different schools of thought. While Spain are the second best scoring team in the tournament with 86.3 points per game, Greece are at the opposite end, second from last, scoring only 65.7 on average. So you can expect this game to be a battle of styles and tempo. If Greece set the rhythm, it will make it easier for them to win.
X-Factor: You won’t find this one in the Xs and Os. Just like the Mundo Basket final wasn’t decided by a game plan - but by Spain’s great fighting spirit after Gasol suffered his injury and Greece’s arrogance following their win over the USA - expect the X-Factor of this game to be found off court as well. Greece come into this game hurt by the score of last year’s final. They are hurt because, after three games, everybody is asking, “Where’s the Greek team we used to know in recent years?” They need to prove everybody wrong.
What It Means: Contrary to what most people expected, Greece and Spain didn’t top their respective preliminary groups, which means they carry a loss to the second round. That makes this game much more of a fight. True, there’s honour and pride on the line but, above all, each team must win this game or else making it to the quarter-finals will be much more difficult than planned.