By Simon Wilkinson
Greece and Slovenia will battle it out for the bronze medal when they meet in EuroBasket 2009's 3rd-4th place game in Katowice on Sunday.
The Greeks were hammered by bitter rivals Spain 82-64. The game was close in the first quarter, but after Juan Carlos Navarro buried a three to give the world champions their first double-digit lead of the night, 31-21, early in the second quarter, they were rarely threatened.
Jonas Kazlauskas' side came within seven late in that period but then faltered as the Spaniards went on to lead by as many as 23.
|Vasileios Spanoulis has been great for Greece, but struggled in the loss to Spain.|
Now the former two-time EuroBasket champions (1987 and 2005) must put that game out of their mind and try to win only their second bronze medal ever.
Greece finished third back in 1949 but, despite having reached the semi-finals four times since then (1993, 1995, 19997 and 2007), they have always fallen short of taking the last medal on offer.
Meanwhile, Slovenia will hope to recover and bounce back from a heartbreaking 96-92 defeat after overtime against Serbia to clinch the national team's first ever medal at the EuroBasket.
Jure Zdvoc's side reached the semi-finals for the first time ever despite being without captain Matjaz Smodis for most of the tournament and not having sixth man Goran Dragic available in the last four games due to a knee injury.
The Slovenians led for most of the first three quarters but fatigue soon began to tell. The younger and fresher Serbians caught up to them in the final frame and outlasted them in the extra session thanks to some inspiring play from 22-year-old point guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with a game-high 32 points.
Slovenia were also hampered by foul trouble as leading scorer Erazem Lorbek - who had 25 on the night - fouled out with 4:29 remaining in regulation and starting center Primoz Brezec soon joined him on the bench, being whistled for his fifth foul with 54 seconds to go in normal time. Leading scorer Laka Jakovic also fouled out.
Erazem Lorbek's younger brother Domen finished with a tournament best 22 points and Nachbar chipped in with 18.
Though exhausted by Friday's semi-final, the Slovenians will no doubt be highly-motivated as they have already achieved their best result in the tournament and the thought of going one better and bringing home a bronze medal could be enough to see them battle through one more game.
Head to head: Slovenia have beaten Greece three times in four meetings but the latter got the most important win, edging them out 63-62 in their quarter-final at EuroBasket 2007. Theo Papaloukas made a lay-up with 6.7 seconds remaining to cap off a 14-1 run to the finish. Panagiotis Yannakis' men overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 2:30.
Last time out: Greece were thrashed 82-64 by Spain, making it the second time in a row they have fallen against the Spaniards in the semi-finals of the EuroBasket. Slovenia pushed Serbia all the way before falling just short in a 96-92 defeat.
Key match-up: The point guard battle between Vasileios Spanoulis and Laka Jakovic should be fun to watch. Both players had sub-par performances in their respective semi-finals and must bounce back to lead the way for their teams.
Stats: 71 - The number of fouls called in what will become - if it isn't already - an epic semi-final between Slovenia and Serbia on Friday. The Serbs committed 38 fouls and had two players foul out while Slovenia were called for 33 fouls and lost three starters (Erazem Lorbek, Brezec and Lakovic).
Sounding off: "We showed a lot of heart. I don't think people realise how many problems we have on this team. Guys can barely walk in the morning and yet they are playing in the evening. We'll try our best (against Greece). It's not going to be easy. But we have worked so hard to get here that we just want to try to make history." - Slovenia forward Bostjan Nachbar.