by Paul Nilsen
After three pulsating and vibrant group games, the intensity of games involving hosts Italy was magnified even further as they completed a dramatic and controversial 64-62 win over Finland to remain unbeaten.
Both teams were terrific for forty minutes, especially the Finns who were underdogs and were denied the opportunity to force overtime or even nail a three-pointer to win in the3 last second by a freak incident.
With Finland about to execute the defining shot, Italian center Alessandra Formica fell in the paint and the referees chose to blow and stop the game. That left Finland with a time-out to try and come up with a play in less than one second from the sideline to meet their target.
The incident left Italian coach Giovanni Lucchesi feeling some sympathy for his counterpart Harri Jokela.
"I am sorry for what happened because it was unlucky for Finland in some ways but I am not so sure there was any choice because my girl was under the basket."
"Maybe it was a difficult thing for Finland and I understand because I have a lot of respect for them as a team. They are a good opponent."
|Francesca Dotto was the top scorer for her team with 10 pts|
While the end of the game was the main talking point, the rest of the contest was incredible to watch for the partisan Neopolitan public yet again. However coach Lucchesi was one Italian definitely not satisfied with very aspect of his teams performance, or the injury to Formica.
"I could not believe how my team gave up so many offensive rebounds to Finland and this was very disappointing because we rely on some energy and athleticism."
"Also Alessandra has had some problems with her knees before this injury so we now have to wait and see if she can return or will be missing. At this stage it is too soon to say."
The early action in the contest was overshadowed by a nasty looking head injury to Finland starter Janniina Koivunen but eventually she got to her feet to walk slowly off the court.
If she felt a little dazed then so did her team-mates as Italy began to find some early rhythm. Guard Francesca Dotta gave Italy a lead at 7-5 after five minutes and they began to slowly ease away.
Alice Mandelli ended the first quarter with a flourish as she came off the bench to nail a buzzer beating trey from the corner to give Italy an 18-10 lead at the end of the first ten minutes.
Just when it looked like the game might be in danger of running away from Finland, they held their nerve and continued to compete all over the court.
Looking strong and with Italy missing some good looks, they not only forced their way back into the game but also wrestled the initiative from the home team with a quick-fire 14-2 spurt of scoring to go 30-26 ahead.
Instead of the Napoli natives celebrating, it was the noisy Finland supporters making all of the noise in the Arena and rightly so taking into account their capitulation against Spain the previous game.
|Anette Juvonen had a more than solid double-double with 14 pts and 11 rbs while shooting 4/9 from behind the arc|
Coach Jokela had demanded his players hustle an get back to solid fundamentals and he will have been very happy during the interval with his team competing ably and still ahead by four points. That was a situation mainly due to 11 big points by Anette Juvonen.
In the third , Italy looked stronger and by the midway point, were back in the lead again at 36-35 with a superbly controlled catch and shoot from the wing by Marta Masoni. Moments later from the exact same spot on the floor, Sara Bocchetti sunk another three-pointer and the momentum looked to be swinging the way of the locals.
Stella Panella then spotted up on the opposite side of the court to extend the advantage to eight points but Finland kept hanging onto Italian coat tails. A really tough inside move by Evita Liskola helped Finland to get to 46-44 seconds before the third quarter break.
However as the clock counted down to 2 seconds, Panella produced another fantastic outside shot, this time off a dribble to send get the Italian supporters on their feet and to send her team into the last ten minutes 49-44 ahead.
At times Italy did manage to penetrate the zone by going inside, Formica with some great footwork in the paint to open her teams account in the fourth.
Both teams were relentless in their approach with time and time again, Finland refusing to surrender but they had it tough with all of the home guards finding real range.
With five minutes left in the game, it was Caterina Dotto joining the party with another triple to keep Italy in front. It was another superb contest, something that has been a real feature of all of the games involving the hosts so far.
Every time Italy looked like pulling away, Finland showed superb courage to come back once more. With just over two minutes remaining they were down 64-57 and looked to have finally been broken but Ida Wahlgren made a big play from the corner to reduce the deficit to just 4 points.
Team-mate Janniina Koivunen who had left the court earlier in the game but had bravely returned then made a tough spin move down low to further increase the anxiety of home fans now nervously biting their finger nails.
Inside the last minute Finland missed two free-throws and then so did Italy. With 30 seconds left Formica went to the hoop but couldn't make a tough lay-up.
Then came the fateful last play for Finland which unsurprisingly they couldn't complete after the injury to Formica.