FYR Macedonia gave everything they had but Israel held on for a 92-87 triumph in Menorca, Spain, to qualify for the EuroBasket.
In a thrilling conclusion to the additional qualifying tournament, FYR Macedonia trailed by 14 points with just under seven minutes remaining but stormed back and twice closed the
gap to one point in the final minute.
|Vlado Ilievski led the way for FYROM with 24 points in the loss. |
Israel, who also won the additional qualifying tournament to play at the EuroBasket in Serbia & Montenegro two years ago, hit big shots at the end to prevail.
The Israelis will go into EuroBasket Group A with European champions Greece, Russia and Serbia.
"We have been through qualification before," Said Israel Coach Zvi Sherf.
"It has been a very hard summer and I believe that we deserved it before but had problems in the home games. Today Macedonia did a great job but we obtained the victory. Now only we think about Greece, my second country after Israel and a world power "
Their first game in Granada will be against that Greek team, the side that ended their run at the EuroBasket in Belgrade in 2005 in the elimination round.
It was almost FYROM that advanced.
They led 39-32 but were outscored 10-2 over the final 2:28 of the second quarter to trail 42-41 at half-time.
Israel, with Yotam Halperin and Meir Tapiro in excellent form, began to open up a comfortable lead in the third quarter.
Halperin would end up scoring a game-high 26 points while Tapiro weighed in with 20.
Early in the fourth quarter, FYROM looked to be on their way to a decisive defeat after falling behind 75-60.
They never gave up, though.
Aleksandar Dimitrovski struck from long range for FYROM, only for Lior Eliyahu to hit back to give Israel a 77-63 lead.
Jovica Arsic’s team always had an answer.
But after Vrbica Stefanov nailed a three-pointer, Tapiro connect from behind the arc to restore Israel’s 14-point advantage.
The momentum finally began to shift for the Macedonians.
A Vlado Ilievski jumper, another Dimitrovski three-ball and two Predrag Samardziski free throws trimmed the deficit to 80-73 with 5:28 remaining.
When Ilievski drove in for a lay-up and then knocked down another three-pointer, FYROM suddenly found themselves down only 84-81 with 2:24 to go.
Those two baskets took Ilievski’s points haul to 20.
After Stefanov drilled two from the stripe with 43 seconds to go, Israel’s lead had been cut to 86-85.
Those free throws raised Stefanov’s scoring on the night to 23 points.
Eliyahu then flashed his big-game credentials.
He went to the other end and the Maccabi Tel Aviv youngster made a jumper to restore a three-point lead with 23 seconds to play.
Israel coach Zvi Sherf called for a timeout.
When play resumed, Israel fouled Ilievski and he made two more free throws with 14 seconds to play to make it 88-87.
The Macedonians needed a steal, but instead fouled Yaniv Green when he went up for a lay-up.
The big man scored, taking the lead back to three.
Though he missed the free throw with nine seconds to go, Dror Hagag grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled.
He then made both free throws to finish the scoring and kill off brave FRYOM’s hopes.
When FIBA Europe brought in the additional qualifying tournament before EuroBasket 2005, this would have been the thrilling finish they would have hoped for.
For FYROM, they have nothing to be ashamed off.
They were remarkable this summer.
On Friday, they buried 13 of 26 shots (50%) from three-point range.
If there was an area that hurt them against Israel, it was on the boards.
Israel out-rebounded them 36-23, with Kozikaro pulling down 10 to go with his six points.