Lithuania Celebrate World Championship Spot

By Yarone Arbel

Lithuania are not celebrating a medal at the EuroBasket, but rest assured, they are celebrating.

The Baltic giants, less than 24 hours after being run over by France in the quarter-finals, beat Russia to qualify for FIBA World Championship 2006.

The defending European champions were destroyed by France in their quarter-final on Thursday, putting them into a must-win situation against the Russians and they met the challenge, winning 89-78.

"To qualify to the World Championship is big for us," said Mindaugus Zukauskas.

"We'll be ready for that event with the best team possible.

"We learned how to win with our third team. This is not our best team, but we played hard. No one expected us to win the tournament anyway."

Speaking before Spain's 101-85 overtime win against Croatia, Zukauskas added: "I think Spain is the best team left in the competition. France are good, too, and progressing."

The last Lithuanian appearance at a FIBA World Championship was in 1998.

Benetton star Ramunas Siskauskas admitted his relief that Lithuania would play in Japan next summer.

"It was a real difficult game," he said. "I'm a little disappointed after the quarter-final loss, but happy to see we had strength for this game and we qualified to the World Championship."

For Coach Antanas Sireika, this was a good result considering the number of superstars who didn't join the team this summer.

"Before the game, I was worried that last night's game would affect us in a bad way.

"Now I'm happy about how we played together and fought to win the game. I'm proud of all my players."

Paulius Jankunas, who played for Lithuania's triumphant side at the FIBA U21 World Championship, said: "I believed all the time that we can make it to the World Championship.

"And I even believed we can do better than the fifth and sixth placed places."

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