At first glance, the final of the European Championship between Israel and Slovenia seems an unlikely pairing. Neither team were favoured to compete for a gold medal before the start of the championship and both overcame formidable quarter and semi-final opponents.
On the other hand Slovenia and Israel also possess the key ingredients needed to go all the way in a tournament.
In Erazem Lorbek, Slovenia have a legitimate star and go-to guy. As a team, they have managed to peak at the right time, producing easily their best 2 performances in the quarter-final victory over Russia and semi-final destruction of Lithuania.
|Lorbek was MVP of the 2002 U18 Championship - can he reproduce that form in the final against Israel|
Israel’s other key strength is something they have in spades – team spirit.
Halperin is the heart and soul of the team but Israel has received key contributions from every member of its 10-man rotation. After 2 thrilling wins in the quarters and semis the players are starting to believe that anything is possible.
Israel v. Slovenia. Halperin v. Lorbek. The 2 stars on the court will no doubt have to produce their best if they want to win gold.
Slovenia will look to exploit Israel’s traditional weakness, the lack of a bona fide center. In Lorbek, they have the low post presence that could really hurt Israel. But Slovenia will also be mindful that this tactic was employed by both Serbia & Montenegro and Greece, teams which physically outmatched Israel, to no avail.
Israel will be hoping and praying that Halperin can give them quality minutes. He was severely limited in his movements in the quarter-final against Serbia & Montenegro, and although he looked better against Greece, he won’t be anywhere near 100% in the final. The pressure will be on him to hit his outside shots. In the last 2 games he has made 10/13 three-pointers and if Israel are to win today, he will need to reproduce that kind of form.
An interesting caveat is that today’s final is a repeat of the 2000 European Championship for U20 Men. On that occasion, it was Slovenia who won the title, but in a desperately close
|Halperin will need plenty of help from team-mates such as Lior Eliyahu if Israel are to win today|
Israel’s team in 2000 is considered to be one of the most talented generations ever produced and featured current senior national team stand-outs Yaniv Green and Tal Burstein, For a country of some 2 million inhabitants, Slovenia have also nurtured and developed some of Europe’s top players, including Bostjan Nachbar and Sani Becirovic from their team in 2000.
That final was decided at the death when Becirovic’s lay-up attempt was tipped in with 4 seconds remaining, giving Slovenia their second medal (they won silver in 1998) in this age category.
It is impossible to predict how today’s final will go down. The only certainty is that game is open and both teams are capable of winning.