By Yarone Arbel
Turning point: The half time break divided the game to two. After 20 minutes Croatia were down by 14 and couldn't find their way in the game. In the second half the made two big runs that totally changed the face of the game, and sent them to the Qualifying Round with a key win and more confidence.
Hero: Zoran Planinic took over the game for his team in the second half and showed great leadership. It wasn't only the nine points without a miss and the five assists on a single turnover, but also the leadership and confidence he bestowed his team-mates.
Stats: Croatia won the second half 47-23 thanks to great accuracy from the field in 68%, which showed they finally released some pressure off and show why they were considered medal contenders coming here.
After two and a half games Croatia, the medal contender, the big force, the talented deep group is finally here with an 81-71 win over F.Y.R. of Macedonia in Group A in Poznan.
The win allows Croatia to advance to the Qualifying Round with a win in their pocket after finishing the current group with a 2-1 record.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia on the other hand will start the next round with an 0-2 record, but didn't expect much more than that coming here.
|Vrbica Stefanov and his teammates very nearly pulled the upset.|
Nevertheless it wasn't far from being the other way around.
The group of Jovica Arsic held a 39-22 lead in the second quarter and entered the break with a 14 point lead.
"In the locker room coach told us we must believe in ourselves and play with confidence and that's what we did," shared Zoran Planinic about the half time talk with Coach Jasmin Repesa.
Planinic led Croatia on a beautiful ride in the second half when they erased the gap in the first minutes of the third quarter, and took over the game completely in an impressive team display in the last period with a 27-2 run.
"I'm happy we finally showed our quality here and hope our fans aren't too frustrated with us after the first two games.
"From now on we'll play with more confidence and hope to write better results," added Planinic.
No less than nine Croatian players scored between seven and 12 points led once again by Nikola Vujcic. Marko Banic added 11 while Planinic had nine points second half points without a miss and seven assists.
Three players - Vrbica Stefanov, Darko Sokolov and Jeremiah Massey - scored 12 each.
Croatia won the second half 47-23 in a one sided show that give them great momentum towards the Qualifying Round.
FYROM missed a chance for a huge upset, but can gain confidence from dominating Croatia this way in the first half.
Vrbica Stefanov scored eight points already after 5:30 to make it 16-11 in favor of his team.
Banic and Vujcic were the only ones to make it happen for Croatia but when Sokolov found his spot and took over Stefanov's streak with eight of his own until the buzzer, FYROM led 26-20 after ten minutes.
Gecevski and then Stefanov scored from distance and Massey finished a fast break to shock the Croats with a 34-20 lead and cap a total of 13 unanswered points.
The gap reached already 39-22 but Croatia was just about to strike back.
Ukic and Davor Kus scored from distance to write a 13-2 run, but lack of focus around the rim and a technical foul on the Croatian bench, stopped the momentum.
FYROM converted it to five points in a row and entered the break up 48-34.
Croatia came back from the locker-room with a different spirit, and after four minutes it was already a 48-46 game.
Vojdan Stojanovski with a lay up and Pero Antic with a big alley-hoop dunk shook up the Macedonian offense, to set the ground for Vrbica Stefanov to nail a three ball and set the margin on nine, 61-52.
Croatia added four more points inside before the fourth quarter kicked in, and continued their run with ten more points, capped with a corner three by Marin Rozic, 66-61.
After five minutes with no points Massey finally broke the drought from F.Y.R. of Macedonia after an offensive board but Planinic dished another assist and Popovic completed an additional three point play to regain the Croatian run.
A technical foul and a big play by Planinic capped the run on 27-2 and showed Croatia is finally here, before the margin was cut in the closing minutes.