Spahija And Croatia On Verge Of Success

22.09.2005

By Jeff Taylor, PA Sport

Croatia coach Neven Spahija believes his team's inability to win EuroBasket Group B in Podgorica has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

By coming in second, they went into the elimination round and took on a very good Italy team and prevailed.

The extra game has helped Spahija and his team build more momentum with a game against Spain in the quarter-final round next up on Friday.

"We have come from Podgorica where we had four good games," Spahija said to PA Sport.

Zoran Planinic (Croatia)
Zoran Planinic has made a seamless transition from the NBA back to international basketball
"We have improved every game so far. Spain, on the other hand, played only one serious game against Serbia & Montenegro, and after that they won against Latvia in overtime, and they lost against Israel.

"And I think they don't feel the game like we are right now."

Spahija says Croatia know they face a very difficult task.

"We respect them, and they have many good players and they have a good system but I think we can respond to everything they can do," he said.

Croatia are looking to make their mark on the international stage for the first time in over a decade, and if they get past Spain, they will be in the semi-final and just two wins shy of a gold medal.

Spain coach Mario Pesquera says Croatia have every chance of going far.

"This is the best Croatian team for some time," Pesquera said to PA Sport.

"They are one of the best teams in these European Championships. They are a team in every sense. There is no selfishness among the players and that allows them to be very balanced.

"I am certain, whatever happens, that they will do well in the future."

All of the teams at the EuroBasket have great players, but not all have performed well as a unit.

"The chemistry is the best part of our team," Spahija said. "The scouting of our team is not easy for opponents because we are never playing with one or two players.

"We can play with five players, inside or outside. This is the key to our team, and I believe that we can play good defence."

Croatia's number one mission is to qualify for FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan.

"It is the first goal," Spahija said. "Definitely, we came to do that for our country."
 
As for his NBA contingent, Spahija says two of them - stars Gordan Giricek and Zoran Planinic - have blended in well with the team.

Egos, in other words, have not been a stumbling block for the Croatians.

"We said before the preparation that we were going to be good enough if our players can play for the team," Spahija said.


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