Croatia is the last team to earn a ticket to the FIBA U19 World Championship in Riga, Latvia next year after a 67-61 triumph over France in the 5-8 classification round of the OMNITEL U18 European Championship at Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania on Saturday evening.
|Toni Katic contributed 12 points and 4 assists to the comeback win|
The Croats join Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Serbia and Poland as the representatives of Europe among the 16 teams to fight for the world crown next year.
Two different halfs told the story of the game, as France dominated the 1st but saw Croatia storm back in the next 20 minutes to win the game.
Croatia will take on Poland tomorrow in the 5-6 classification game while France meet Greece to fight for the 7th spot.
"Our most important task and only motivation today was to win so we'll make it to the U19 World Championship," said Toni Katic of the Croatian team.
"We're a bit disappointed that we didn't go further in this championship, because we feel like we deserve to be among the top four teams, but the main thing now is that we won the ticket to the big games next year."
Dario Saric had a great game with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists while Katic added 12 points, 10 of them in the 2nd half, to be named the top scorers of the winners.
Thomas Ceci exemplified his leathal handle with 19 points behind 5 three pointers while Theo Leon scored 10 in favor of the defeated side.
Saric scored six quick points for his team but Mathis Keita was in good form and Ceci hit his first three pointer to make it a 10-15 lead in favor of his side after nine minutes.
As a true shooter, once he started rolling, Ceci was on fire and added two more three pointers to expand his team's lead to 15-25, and yet another downtown bomb helped France take a 19-32 lead, their biggest of the game.
Saric and Boris Barac helped maintain the situation and at the break the gap was only 28-38 in favor of France.
Right out of a canon Croatia came back to the 2nd half with an 11-0 run to take the lead and make a big statement.
Katic scored in a fast break and his back court team-mate Roko Rogic scored from the arc to keep France under control
Barac found a lot of hands around the rim so hurt with jumpers and with Marko Ramljak turned a Katic pass to a three pointer it was already 62-52 with 4:25 to play.
France looked for answers from behind the arc, but in a bad shooting day of five long distance hits in 23 attempts, didn't find the path back to threaten Croatia's lead.