Russia Want To Finish On Top

11.09.2007

By Simon Wilkinson

Russia (3-1) go into their final qualifying round game against Croatia (2-2) knowing they have already booked their place in the last eight.

However, they will have all the motivation they need to go out and win as there is still a chance for them to secure top spot in Group E and guarantee themselves an advantageous draw in the quarter-finals.

Zoran Planinic (CRO)
Planinic has yet to deliver a
big performance for Croatia
As for Croatia, they face some uncertainty as both Portugal and Israel could still snap a place in the next round at their expense.

Therefore, Jasmin Repesa's men must go into this clash against Russia thinking that a win is the only result that guarantees their place in the quarter-finals.

Last time out: Hosts Spain handed Russia their first loss of the competition on Sunday, beating them 81-69 and forcing Andrei Kirilenko & Co to play a style of basketball which was pretty much the opposite of what coach David Blatt wanted to see. Croatia meanwhile were beaten 81-78 by defending champions Greece as Vasileios Spanoulis hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer after Marko Popovic had tied the game at 78-78 on a pair of free-throws with seven secondds left.

Key Match-up: Mario Kasun v Aleksey Savrasenko and Nikita Morgunov. Kasun has been a beast inside for Croatia averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. Savrasenko and Morgunov will have to try their best to prevent him from getting too many offensive rebounds and that will be a tough task as the Russian pair are only combining for five boards a game. Morgunov though might be a handful for Kasun at the other end of the court as he has provided a huge offensive boost off the bench for Croatia lately.

X-Factor: The play of two key guards. Russia's J.R Holden has had a mixed tournament so far but it hasn't affected his team too much - yet. He has had two good outings and three quiet (if not sub-par) performances, including the last two games. Meanwhile, Zoran Planinic hasn't exactly been on fire for Croatia. He hasn't had any particularly bad games but neither has he had a stunning one either.

Key Statistics: Marko Popovic is Croatia's second leading scorer with 12.8 points per game despite having made just one two-point field goal - and attempted a total of eight - so far in the tournament. He has hit on 15 of 39 attempts from three-point range (38.5%) and is a very reliable free-throw shooter (made 17 of 20 for 85%).

Sounding off: "I'm a little frustrated. I think we played stupid in the second half. We took one on the chin, but we have to come back against Croatia." - Russia guard J.R Holden after his team's defeat against world champions and looking ahead to today’s game.


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