By Soriebah Kajue, PA Sport
Israel were the last team to qualify for EuroBasket 2005 but only a fool would put this down to a lack of quality.
The Israelis, who face Latvia in their opener on Friday, are a much better side than the one upset by Portugual in their Division A campaign one year ago, a defeat which contributed to their third place finish in Group B and forced them into the additional qualifying tournament.
Having been beaten to qualification by Latvia and Bulgaria, few expected Israel to reach the EuroBasket, especially after the departure of coach David Blatt.
But win the additional tournament they did, with triumphs over the Czech Republic and Hungary in the second phase in Novi Sad putting them in the EuroBasket.
|Dror Hagag came up big for Israel in the additional qualifying tournament|
So what do we make of this? Man for man, Israel do not appear to be as strong as most teams, certainly not in Group D where juggernauts Serbia & Montenegro and Spain reside.
What gives the Israelis a chance is their experience and savvy, and timely contributions from players like Dror Hagag, who came off the bench to fire Israel to an 83-78 success over the Czechs.
Stars are born in EuroBaskets, and this could be the case for 1.8m guard Hagag, who has only just cemented his place in the squad yet had 15 points and equally important, four steals against the Czechs.
His efforts, combined with the play of veteran Tal Burstein - 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists - drove Israel to victory.
Burstein was uncertain to face Hungary in the next game with a back problem but played and poured in 17 points.
Basketball players do not come any tougher than this guy.
Latvia are an excellent outside shooting team and will be forced to rely on that as big man Kaspars Kambala is not in with the team in Serbia & Montenegro.
When Latvia are hitting from outside, they are formidable.
The two sides split their meetings in the qualifying round.
Israel, who have qualified for every final round since 1963, will like their chances.
They have been playing competitive basketball for about a month. They have also learned how to come from behind and win.
The free-scoring Czechs led them 40-25 after five minutes of the second quarter but Israel fought back, just as they did in the 2003 championships when they came from a mammoth 17 points behind to triumph over Slovenia.
Against Hungary, it was a much closer affair that was only settled in the last three minutes of the contest as the Israelis reached into overdrive.
An 11-0 run saw Israel eventually claim a narrow victory as the Hungarians fought back to lose 72-69.