By David Hein
Marko Popovic scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half as a balanced Croatia booked their spot in next summer's pre-Olympic qualifying tournament by beating France 86-69 in the 5th-8th classification round of EuroBasket 2007.
The Croatians, who had lost their last four games since beating Spain in the preliminary round, will play the winner of Germany vs Slovenia on Sunday for fifth place.
France play the loser of that game in the game for seventh place - which means the final spot in the pre-Olympic event.
|Tony Parker had 18 points for France but it was not enough.|
"We all knew our own role today. We showed a lot of character against France considering yesterday's defeat, which was really painful," said Popovic, referring to Croatia's 74-72 quarter-final loss to Lithuania on two missed foul shots with one second remaining.
"But against France we kept up the energy in the final minutes of the game. It's a big deal for us to have clinched this spot. That's why we came here. We knew what we came here for and we achieved it."
Zoran Planinic also scored 15 points while Nikola Prkacin had 14 points and Marko Banic and Stanko Barac each scored 12 points for the winners, who shot 56% from the field for the game.
France were led by Tony Parker's 18 points and Boris Diaw collected 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. But they shot only 41% from the field and forced Croatia into only nine turnovers.
"We know that tomorrow's game is the game for us. And we need to have everyone on the team motivated," said Diaw.
"It's difficult to know what happened today in the second half. We were late in reacting and we didnt apply that much pressure out there.We would have preferred to have won this game, but we must continue to work."
Early on, Croatia took advantage of a size difference in the paint with Prkacin and Barac helping Jasmin Repesa's team to a 17-7 lead with two minutes left in the first period.
The Croatians led 21-13 after one quarter as Prkacin scored eight points and Barac collected six points and six rebounds.
Trailing by 12 points - 25-13, Yakhouba Diawarra, Diaw and Yohann Sangare all hit three-pointers in a 13-1 surge to cut the deficit back down to 29-26. But an 18-5 Croatia run gave them a 47-31 lead at the break.
France opened the second half with the first 11 points and forced Croatia into four turnovers to trim the margin to 47-42.
Marko Popovic answered with three long bombs in spear-heading a 14-3 spurt for a 61-45 Croatia lead.
It was 61-50 after three periods.
Another Popovic three-pointer pushed the advantage to 68-52 with eight minutes to go. The French got as close as nine points with three minutes left. But Croatia went on a 6-0 run to re-establish a 15-point lead - 79-64 - and put the game to rest.