By Paul Nilsen
France were crowned champions of the U20 European Championship Men 2010 in Croatia thanks to a 73-62 victory against Greece and amidst scenes of high emotion after the final buzzer, the tears flowed freely as they immediately dedicated their gold medal success to former team-mate Jonathan Bourhis who died tragically in a car accident last year.
Epitomising the very essence of teamwork, Les Bleus surprised everyone with a swashbuckling first half-performance and a 20-0 run that blew reigning champions Greece out of the water and left them with a mountain they couldn't climb.
|FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin and Croatian Basketball Federation President Danko Radic present the winners' trophy to Andrew Albicy|
Last year's gold medallists struggled to come to terms with the athleticism and relentless French defence that made life particularly difficult for the likes of Kostas Papanikolaou whose usual options were severely limited and it proved to be a big factor.
Not as big a factor however as the leadership of the fantastic Andrew Albicy. The point guard again led his team superbly well and finished with 20 points and of a thoroughly deserved winners medal.
Just as important was the rejuvenated perimeter shooting of France. Having not been able to get anything to drop in Makarska, their love of lighting it up from the perimeter inside the Kresimir Cosic Hall continued and they just kept on knocking down their shots.
Without any truly established stars, France just continued to work together to squeeze every last drop from their main strength. The incessant chanting of defence coming from the French bench on each possession throughout the tournament was a constant reminder of their solid backbone.
At 6-4, behind midway through the opening period, France ripped the game open in spectacular fashion and stormed into a 24-6 lead. As hard as Greece tried, they couldn't overhaul the deficit.
During the final few minutes of the game, the French wobbled briefly and the nerves began to jangle when Greece cut the margin to five points at 63-58 with two minutes to go. However France are a team that rely on solid fundamentals and perhaps rather aptly, they made 17 of 17 free-throws.
For a champion team like Greece it was tough to take. This 'golden generation' suddenly had to somehow settle for silver. For many of their class players so used to success, it was difficult to take. It certainly wasn't the farewell to Youth basketball they had been anticipating.
After all, this was the only defeat in the entire tournament - but oh boy, it was a critical one.
Watch the winners' postgame reaction here.