Quarter-Final Bound France Take On Croatia

12.09.2009

By Yarone Arbel

The last game of the second day in Group E played in Bydgoszcz will feature two power houses going in two different directions- Croatia and France.

The French team is on fire having a perfect 3-0 record after not dropping a single game the whole championship. Their concert against F.Y.R.O.M. two days ago set an example what can happen when things connect for the squad of Coach Vincent Collet.

Coach Collet enjoys a deep roster with experienced players but also some uprising stars as Nando De Colo and Antoine Diot who show they fit the level in their first EuroBasket performance.

It's very tough to play against the highly athletic French team, who put big pressure on defense, and use their size and physical attributes to dominate the offensive side.

The only big riddle about the French team is how they are going to react when they face their first big opponent, as so far they have gained three wins against the least skilled and deep Group B teams and added another on F.Y.R.O.M.

There are rarely easy games in a EuroBasket, but facing a team with a short bench is easier for a team that relays a lot of pressure on defense and exhausting the key players of the opponent as France.

How they will react against a long list of top players is a question they still didn't answer.

Croatia at the other end is in trouble and not only because of their 1-2 record in the group.

Before the championship started it seemed as Croatia would be the one to fit the description of a highly talented team with a deep roster - of the kind France didn't face yet, but In the 16 quarters they played so far, they can count maybe three as successful ones. The rest, and the Croats are the first to admit it, doesn't fit their potential.

There are a lot of doubts and hesitations in the Croat camp regarding what holds them from bringing to the court their expected level.

A 12 man roster loaded with talent, experience, skills, size, athleticism, shooters, intelligence, pride and they are even a glued group of friends who support each other the whole way.

On the bench sits one of the best coaches in Europe - Jasmin Repesa, who has his share of experience in EuroBasket as well as finals in top club competitions, backed by Drazen Anzulovic - a coach with a resume thicker and more impressive than some of the head coaches in the competition.

It seems like every minute the Croats can blow up and bring the expected level of play, but after four games they are still looking for their answers, and with a loss to France they could be 40 minutes from a shocking elimination.

Will France prove they can make it happen against the big names too or will Croatia finally blow up and give France their first defeat? All the eyes of basketball fans in Europe are set on this interesting match.

Head-to-head: In a span of 14 years these two teams faced each other only five times, and Croatia won three of them. The last of them was two years ago in EuroBasket 2007 when Croatia won 86-69 in the 5-8 classification games behind 15 points by Zoran Planinic and Marko Popovic.

Last time out: Croatia suffered a tough 62-59 loss to Russia behind a very bad shooting day, while France easily crushed F.Y.R.O.M. 83-57.

Stats: After four games in the group France have the best defensive numbers by allowing only 59.3 ppg.  Croatia already showed they have trouble against tough defense as Greece and Russia, so a lot will depend on their outside shooting. So far in their two losses Croatia was accurate in 31.6% and 29.4% from the arc, while in their two wins jumped to 50% and 38.5%. This will be a factor against France as well probably, but there's one thing the players of Coach Repesa must keep in mind. So far in this EuroBasket there's one team that allow both the fewest made three pointers (5.8) and lowest percentage from the same distance (28.4%) and that team is no other than...France. 

Key Match-Up: Zoran Planinic and Tony Parker are the hearts and minds of their teams. The Croat leads his team in assists (ranked 2nd in the competition), while the French in points (2nd) and steals (1st). Planinic is so far the most consistent contributor in his team's back court, while Parker is the French postman - always delivers and on time.

X-Factor: Davor Kus of Croatia is the barometer when it comes to his team's three point shooting. In the good shooting nights of Croatia he scored twice from distance in good percentages, while in the two bad shooting days he missed all of his attempts. Follow his performance to learn more on what is about to come for Croatia in this game.

Sounding-Off: "Playing against Croatia after they lost to Russia can't be good for us, because they will come hurt and must win if they want to make the quarter-finals, but if we play good we could beat them." - France's Boris Diaw.


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