Semis: Perfect Greece Take On Tricky Croatia

02 August 2008
Greece have swept through the field at the U18 European Championship Men without a loss and go into their semi-final showdown against Croatia with high hopes of winning the nation's first gold medal at this age group.

Things will not be easy for the hosts as Croatia have arguably the best starting five in this tournament.

The Croatians may also feel like a re-born team after believing they were out of the semis only to advance after Latvia bounced Russia out at the buzzer.

George Vlassopoulos's Greeks have achieved their first goal of reaching the semi-finals and center Zisis Sarikopoulos expects the team to get a boost from the home fans in Pyrgos, saying: "It's a huge advantage for us that we're playing here. We have the crowd with us. I think we will play our best because we really want to go to the final."

Greece have never won U18 gold, losing to Serbia in the 2007 final while also capturing bronze in 1998, 2000 and 2002 and silver way back in 1970.

This Greek age group meanwhile lost to Croatia in the first round of the U16 European Championship in 2006.

Vladimir Vanjak's Croatians look to return to the final for the sixth time and would like to add the 2008 hardware to gold from 1996 and 2002.

Among the keys to the game will be how Sarikopoulos and Greek power forward Leonidas Kaselakis play against Croatia's versatile low post stars Mario Delas and Tomislav Zubcic.  

"It is going to be really tough for me and Leonidas to match up with them. But I think we can stop them," Sarikopoulos admitted.

Croatian guard Toni Prostran will be looking for redemption after apparently being confused and attempting a heavily-contested three-pointer from the top of the circle with three seconds left and his team down by just one point against France with a spot in the semi-final going to the winner.

The talented Croatian scoring playmaker will have a second chance now. But he faces a tough assignment in trying to stop and get by Greek point guard Kostas Sloukas, who has been one of the tournament's most effective players.

Another key to the game could be free throws, if the game is tight down the stretch. Croatia are the best foul shooting team in the tournament at 73 percent. The Greeks, meanwhile, are an abysmal 55 percent from the charity stripe. Not even Sloukas's 81 percent (26 of 32) can off-set Sarikopoulos's 20 percent (4 of 20).

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