Up And Down Croatia Look For Consistency

18 September 2009
By Yarone Arbel

Warning: EuroBasket might be addictive for the fans, but lead to schizophrenia for the participating teams.

Teams arrive to the competition with one thing on their minds and find themselves in a totally different place after a couple of nights.

They could easily keep going up and down as the competition develops.

It's a roller-coaster that turns favorites to underdogs and vice-versa in a matter of 48 hours.

Here are two examples from this competition.

Spain were heavy favorites before tip off, found themselves four minutes from elimination in the Preliminary Round, survived a win-or-die match against the hosts in the Qualifying Round and now march to the semis having won three straight, much better shape and momentum on their side.

Russia came here with zero expectations and when nobody gave them a big chance to make anything big here, didn't impress in the Preliminary Round as well, but then won all three games in the Qualifying Round, finished second and then were soundly thumped by Serbia in the Quarter-Finals.

The run of Croatia in this tournament is somewhere between the two mentioned above.

They came in as strong medal contenders. Had a difficult start in the Preliminary Round that put a big question mark on them. Played a very good second half in the last game of the round to boost confidence, then back down with a loss to Russia, good first half against France made it look like they are back in the race, but then qualified to the Final Round only with a two point win over F.Y.R. of Macedonia.

With that state of mind they enter their Quarter-Finals clash with Slovenia on Friday in Katowice.

The Croats were marked as favorites to go far early in the preparations.

Having a very deep roster loaded with talent, skills, experience, intelligence and size was the starting point.

Add on that a great coaching staff with a top class bench boss like Jasmin Repesa and an assistant, Drazen Anzulovic, with a great resume as a club head coach himself only cultivated that belief.

Croatia also had two things needed to go far.

A very good chemistry inside the team in addition to hunger for results and need to revenge.

In the last two EuroBaskets they were eliminated in the Quarter-Finals, but only in the very last seconds.

Great results in the preparations added the final stamp, and left just one single doubt that was always around the Croatian team - their mental strength.

Talking with the Croats doesn't necessarily help to understand these ups and downs in EuroBasket 2009.

All the players said they can't explain why they don't bring their consistent game to the championship, yet on the same note seemed very confident it will happen.

Throughout the entire Qualifying Round they said: "It will all change in the Quarter-Finals," which showed both their confidence, and that they still see themselves, without a doubt, as a medal contender.

In search for more concrete answers the target was Coach Repesa, who wasn't much more detailed, but did share a thought or two.

"Coming here we thought our first goal is qualifying for the World Championships," he stated.

'The way we played in the first part of the tournament, it was not enough.

"Every game we had one mental lapse, and we did not win any games easily.

"Now we are in the quarters, where we expected to be, but to do something more we definitely have to play better than the first seven or eight days," said the veteran coach.

"We must be mentally stronger and know how to handle the pressure around us," he says.

"Almost in every game we didn't handle the pressure well,"

Having the roster loaded with players who have played for several years already at the highest level of basketball with a lot of pressure every season doesn't entirely help according to Repesa.

"When you play for the national team it's a totally different pressure, especially in EuroBasket," he explains.

"In Croatia the expectations are always very, very high from every team that play in any championship, not only in basketball and EuroBasket.

"People on the street will criticize the players if they don't bring the expected results, and this is the type of pressure you don't find in most clubs," he says.

"Nevertheless, I'm confident we'll be ready for the quarters.

"We had a good rest and time to prepare for that very important game.

"I hope it will be enough."

With a win Croatia will end 14 years outside the land of the semis.

14 years ago was also the first and last time they beat Slovenia at a EuroBasket.

Slovenia's Coach Jure Zdovc was a player on that team back in those days.

Now he'll try separate Croatia from touching base with 1995.


20.09.2009 - By Simon Wilkinson
20.09.2009 - By Simon Wilkinson
18.09.2009 - By Jeff Taylor

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