Relentless Greece steal game from France in closing seconds

24.09.2005

By Simon Wilkinson

Panagiotis Yannakis is thrilled for his team - and disappointed for France following his side's 67-66 win in the first semi-final of the Eurobasket.

"This game was a celebration of basketball," the Greek head coach said after the game. "It was a tough, hard fought battle all the way, which is exactly what a semi-final should be. It's just a shame that one of these two quality teams had to lose," he said after the game.

Greece were able to come out on top despite trailing for much of the second half and by as many as seven points in the last minute of the game.

The miraculous comeback left some players lost for words.

"I can't believe it. There is no way to describe how I feel now," said Nikolaos Zisis. "What Dimitrios Diamantidis did is so incredible and amazing. It's unbelievable right now. It hasn't sunk it."

Theodoros Papaloukas (Greece)
Theodoros Papaloukas scored 2 crucial baskets for Greece in the last 70  seconds
Some, like guard Theodoros Papaloukas - who scored four points late in the game to give Greece a fighting chance before fouling out - were more philosophical.

"The way the game finished today, it just goes to show that nothing is definite until the game is really over. That's the way sport is. That's how basketball is. We've lost some games when we were down and now we've won one coming from behind.

And the thousands of Greek fans who look forward to tomorrow's final - Greece's first EuroBasket final since 1989 when they took home silver - shouldn't worry that their players will have enough energy.

"We're full of energy and we get if from the fans. So as long as they cheer us on, we'll be ok," said Papaloukas.

Game winner and Greek hero Diamantidis was still too shocked to fully explain what went through his mind at the end of the game.

"Thank God it went it, that's all I can think right now," he said. "It didn't matter that I made the last shot. We all won and that's what's most important right now."

And Michail Kakiouzis was looking ahead to the final, one which he says will be enjoyable to play as there will be no real pressure on Greece.

"The final is one game only. So we have to go out and there and give everything we have. But no-one really expected us to go this far, so I don't feel like there is any pressure on us. We're going to get a medal either way and that's very important for basketball in Greece because we've gone through a tough period in recent years."

And Yannakis said it would be fitting if Greece could complete a rare double.

"Last year, the Greek football team won the European Championships and it would be great for our country if we won the basketball equivalent this year."

In the French camp, the players were obviously down, none more so than captain Antoine Rigaudeau who took the blame for the final result and was left teary eyed after the game.

"I take this loss on me personally, as the captain but more so as the person who missed some costly free-throws," he said. "For me it's not normal to miss those kinds of shots. I wasn't able to do my part and it's cost the team and the nation."

But team-mate Boris Diaw was more interested in what France could still do tomorrow - win a bronze medal.

"The competition isn't over yet. Are we disappointed to have lost tonight? Yes of course, there's no question about it. But there's still a game to play, with something at stake and we have to look forward to that. We'll have time after the tournament is over to look back on what we did wrong."

And French head coach Claude Bergeaud couldn't bring himself to talk negatively about his team or his players individually.

"Naturally I have to congratulate the Greek team on a great win. But I have to say that I'm proud of my guys. The way we played these last three games, after the first three group games, I couldn't have asked for much better.

And Bergeaud echoed what the Greek coach and players said - that it was great to see a game decided late in the game.

"That's the true beauty of basketball. It's not over until the clock has completely run out. It can change sides in a matter of second. It didn't go our way tonight, but that's the way it goes sometimes."


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