France, Greece Fight For Top Spot In Group E

14.09.2009

By Yarone Arbel

There's one game to decide the king of Group E in Bydgoszcz and that game will feature Greece and France.

The loss to Russia on the second day of the round didn't hurt Greece's chances to win the group, a win over France is a must and enough in any case, but Coach Jonas Kazlauskas didn't let that fact calm his nerves.

The Greek locker room was locked in the minutes following the loss, and the their camp took their first defeat very heavily.

Missing back up center Kostas Koufos against Russia due to sickness hurt the team of Coach Kazlauskas. They were blocked seven times, and saw Ioannis Bouroursis turn in his worst performance so far in the competition.

The Greeks hope to see Koufos back on the court against France - another team loaded with big and athletic inside players who make it difficult to score around the rim.

France, eager to write their first win over Greece in EuroBasket in 26 years, wish to remain perfect one more day.

Against Croatia they proved they were able to handle not only deep strong teams, but also to have the know-how to recover from a deficit to a win, something Greece failed to do.

The situation in Group F draws attention as well. Despite their unconvincing performance so far nobody wishes to face Spain in the Quarter-Finals.

If it seems Spain's chances to finish fourth are smaller, the fight for the first spot in Group E will become even more intense and crucial.

Greece may aim at the top spot but must keep an eye out to Russia who could still finish second in the group.

If Russia beat F.Y.R.O.M. they will push Greece back to the third spot in case of a Greek loss.

Head-to-head: One of the longest rivalries in Europe dates back to 1949 when the two giants met for the first time and France won 41-36. Things have changed a bit ever since, and the total record in EuroBasket between the two is 10-5 in favor of Greece. Moreover Greece has won the last seven of them in a row. The last time France managed to beat Greece was 26 years ago in 1983 as the event hosts. It was a 79-77 despite 38 points by Nikos Galis.

Last time out: France remained perfect with an 87-79 victory over Croatia while Greece suffered their first loss in the competition behind a 68-65 defeat to Russia.

Stats: If the three Preliminary Round games France combined for 14 three-pointers in 26.4% making them one of the worst shooting teams in the competition. In the two Qualifying Round games they made a 180 degrees spin and stand on 20 three balls at 71.4%. Such a huge shift is tough to explain, but in the four games remaining till the gold France will need to find the balance between the first unacceptable part and the second unmatched part, and how to win within that balance.

Key Match-Up: Against Israel he rested, in the win over Germany he played only 14 minutes and against Russia had a weak performance of four out of 14 attempts from the field. Ioannis Bouroursis seemed like a possible MVP after two days, but since then he's not performing as expected. In order for Greece to better France they need the first two games Bourousis. At the other side will wait a trio of Ronny Turiaf, Alain Koffi and Ali Traore are all physical, long and strong. If they manage to work together to limit the Greek giant, France's chances to win will be much better.

X-Factor: In his first EuroBasket Nando De Colo is still looking for his spot in the French team. So far in the championship he hit eight three-pointers in 53.3% and showed Europe what everybody in France already know about his shooting skills. After two great games of shooting by players as Diaw, Nicholas Batum and Florent Pietrus, it's likely they won't continue it to a third in a row, as they aren't natural born shooters. De Colo must be there for his team and cover for them, in case of need, to keep France as a threat from outside, especially against a team as tough and strong under the rim as Greece.

Sounding-Off: "They have a good team with a lot of great players and a great coach. Despite their loss, we have to be careful with this game, ‘cause it's still Greece." - France's forward Nicholas Batum.


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