|Eyes on the prize.... Jaka Lakovic was satisifed with the result in the do-or-die game against Finland, but says Slovenia still need to improve and play a better game against giants Spain |
Jaka Lakovic breathed a big sigh of relief after Monday's victory over Finland at the EuroBasket.
An entire nation did.
Slovenia had turned into one of the leading sides in Europe the past several years but faced the worrying prospect of coming up short of the Quarter-Finals and that's a setback a country doesn't need two years before it hosts the competition.
The 67-60 triumph allowed Slovenia to progress to the last eight in Lithuania and also ended a three-game losing streak.
"I hope we can now relax a little bit because the past few days have been very tense and with a lot of pressure," Lakovic told fibaeurope.com
Slovenia, now being led by coach Bozidar Maljkovic, began the tournament with four wins and looked to be heading for a fifth against Russia on 5th September, only for Sergey Monya's jumper with 0.2 seconds left to deny them victory.
Russia won that Group D meeting 65-64 and the result knocked Slovenia out of their rhythm because they next fell to Greece, 69-60, in their Group F opener and followed that with a 68-59 defeat to FYR of Macedonia.
"It has been a struggle," Lakovic said. "We didn't play as a team and we have lacked energy on the court.
"We didn't play as well as we could have and we put ourselves in a very difficult situation heading into the game against Finland."
Slovenia against Finland would ordinarily be a battle of David against Goliath.
The Finns had to go through the Additional Qualifying Round just to reach the EuroBasket.
But a team playing with heart and discipline and led by one of the top coaches in the game, Henrik Dettmann, saw Finland advance from Group C and then beat Georgia.
|Lakovic, who spent five years at Regal Barcelona, knows very well the entire Spanish team and especially former team-mates like Juan Carlos Navarro|
Their success, coupled with Slovenia's poor form and a losing streak, meant there was everything to play for for both teams.
Slovenia won, but the path of recovery was by no means over as they struggled and only secured victory in the final 30 seconds of the game.
"It was an important win for us," said the veteran Lakovic. "But we had to work until the end for the victory.
"Hopefully this win will help us get our confidence back.
"But we still didn't play well and we have to improve."
By finishing fourth in Group F, Slovenia will take on defending champions Spain in Wednesday's quarter final in Kaunas.
Lakovic knows Spain well having faced their players at international level as well as club level.
The 33-year-old spent five seasons at Barcelona before leaving the ACB club this summer.
"I have so many friends in that Spain team," he said. "I know them well and I also know how tough it will be for us to stop them.
"They are very talented.
"Spain have proved they are favourites. and there are many good teams here.
"They have two great players in Pau and Marc Gasol and play well as a team, which makes them unstoppable.
"They are the better team.
"But in a given game anything can happen and we want to compete well against them.
"We have nothing to lose and that is why we have to be calm and compete."