FYROM, Croatia Face Off

09.09.2009

By Yarone Arbel

The opening game of the last day in Group A at Poznan will feature Croatia and F.Y.R. of Macedonia in a head-to-head battle on the second spot in the group.

Both teams hold a 1-1 record after big losses to Greece and edging Israel.

That's enough to secure the spot in the next round, but not enough to be satisfied.

Whoever wins today will carry a key win in their pocket to the Qualifying Round, while the loser will face tougher times having an 0-2 record before the battle on the Quarter-Final spots starts.

Three points were enough for Macedonia to jump from the floor in Poznan to the top of the world.

Not only had they written their first ever win in EuroBasket final round history, eventually it was enough to reach the Qualifying Round, and from there everything else is a bonus.

"I'm so proud of my team-mates and wish to thank them for giving me this opportunity in the last games of my career, and also for the great honor we bestowed our country" said Vrbica Stefanov after yesterday's win.

Having the whole nation pushing them and also the biggest and loudest fans support in the arena, made this win special for them.

Croatia at the other end arrive to the game after two uncomfortable games.

They expected to beat Israel easily but almost dropped the game. They expected to make a statement with a win over Greece, or at least put up a big fight, but found themselves with no answers to the Greek intensity for most of the game.

In order to regain confidence and get on the highway to Katowice Croatia need today's win badly, and it better be in an impressive way.

Head-to-head: The two sides met only twice during the 2003 EuroBasket qualifications. In both games Croatia won - first a 93-85 road win followed by a 91-72 victory in front of their fans. Like several times in this tournament F.Y.R of Macedonia will look for their first time.

Last time out: F.Y.R of Macedonia earned their first ever EuroBasket win in history after bettering Israel 82-79, and taking the spot in the Qualifying Round. Croatia suffered a 76-68 defeat against Greece after being down by 21 points already at the end of the first half.

Stats: Croatia arrived with a very deep and impressive front court but so far only one player - Nikola Vujcic - showed up. He is the only inside player who scored so far in double-digits, and showed some consistency in his game. In order to make big things Croatia need more contribution from the other five bigs, and against the big size of the Macedonians they have a good chance to get things going.

Key Match-Up: Vrbica Stefanov isn't writing a great stat line so far - only 4.5 ppg while hitting four in 23 attempts, but he is the living spirit of his team, and what makes the wheels of F.Y.R. of Macedonia go round. Zoran Planinic is the Croatian equivalent. His numbers are more impressive with 8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.0 apg - pretty normal for such a versatile big guard. Eliminate one of them and the win will be in reach.

X-Factor:  Predrag Samardziski, the 2.15m Macedonian big guy, is producing 8 ppg, 4 rpg and 1.5 bpg in less than 15 mpg in the first two games. He missed just a single shot in nine attempts and has been an impressive presence for his team on defense and offense. If he steps up a bit higher tonight, his team will take a step closer to the get their second win in a row.

Sounding-Off: "we can't allow ourselves to be afraid of F.Y.R of Macedonia. If we want to do something big in this championship, we must be able to handle teams in such level, and if we do we don't deserve" - Marko Popovic isn't worried about the next game.


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