EUROBASKET 2015 2ND QR
| Whilst the spotlight has been shining on Iceland, one must not overlook what Roeland Schaftenaar and Netherlands achieved|
Qualification tournaments serve by their very definition as a fleeting passage, an appetizer before the main course, and few people tend to remember the events that transpired in them once the big competition gets under way.
Yet to the players and coaches that worked all summer to participate in a qualification campaign, as well as to the fans that followed the games, they assume a life of their own and many times hold an important significance.
The EuroBasket 2nd Qualifying Round, which concluded on Wednesday night, is not an exception to this rule and it left behind several points well worth keeping in mind.
Cool As Ice
The day EuroBasket 2015 tips off next summer, Iceland will take over from Luxembourg (who had participated in 1946) as the smallest nation to ever compete in the showpiece event of European basketball.
In order to put this feat into context, one needs to know that Iceland is a country with a population of roughly 325,000 people and participated in the European Championship for Small Countries (formerly Division C) less than two decades ago.
To qualify for EuroBasket as the second-placed team in Group A, the Icelandic team defeated Great Britain, the hosts of the 2012 Olympics, both home and away.
"Getting to EuroBasket hasn't sunk in yet," Iceland head coach Craig Pedersen said after the last game of their campaign, at home to group winners Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"It's a huge thing and right now I'm extremely happy for the players that have put in 14-15 years of work, spending every summer with the guys they like to play with.
"To accomplish this goal is something incredible for them."
The only downside to Iceland's astonishing accomplishment is that it stole the thunder from the success of Netherlands.
The Dutch will return to the EuroBasket for the first time since 1989 and they did so the hard way, qualifying from an exceptionally tough group.
The key to their success was the fact they had a very clear game plan since preparations which the entire team believed in and stuck to it with religious dedication throughout the entire campaign.
A few days before Netherlands' opening game in the 2nd Qualifying Round, and despite some discouraging results in warm-up games, winger Worthy De Jong was optimistic.
"What we want, is to to keep the opponent under 70 points, this is our game, this is how we want to play," De Jong had declared.
Not even De Jong could have probably imagined that his team would execute their game plan to such perfection that they would finish their campaign as the best defensive team in the entire 2nd Qualifying Round, giving up only 62.3 points per game.
The Flip Side
|"This is a big blow for us, but we now have to somehow find the strength and start all over again" - Suad Sehovic (Montenegro)|
In order for Iceland, Netherlands and Estonia (who punched their ticket after last summer's 1st Qualifying Round) to step on the big stage at EuroBasket 2015, three teams that competed in the 2013 edition of the tournament in Slovenia had to make way in Great Britain, Sweden and Montenegro.
The common thread among the three ousted sides is that they did not manage to make up for important absences on their roster, as their NBA stars declined to participate in this summer's campaign for a variety of reasons.
Considering the recent funding cuts by the UK government and the difficulties they had to overcome just to participate this summer, Great Britain can hold their head high and declare that this team fought as good a fight as they could.
Similarly, Sweden knew that their mission was always going to be difficult without the likes of Jonas Jerebko, Jeffery Taylor, Viktor Gaddefors and Kenny Grant.
Montenegro however are devastated, because despite the fact they had to compete without stars Nikola Pekovic, Nikola Vucevic and Bojan Dubljevic, they were in contention for a EuroBasket berth until the third quarter of their Day 6 clash against Netherlands, when they found themselves on the wrong end of a 20-5 run.
"All of us, the players, the coaching staff, are the only culprits," Montenegro captain Suad Sehovic said upon the return of the team to Podgorica.
"In the last game we had a chance, it was all up to us, and we did not make it.
"This is a big blow for us, but we now have to somehow find the strength and start all over again, this is where Montenegro started in 2008, and we in reality we are now returning to that point."
Old Habits Die Hard
In 2015, EuroBasket will complete 80 years since its first edition and in all this time, Italy has only been absent from three tournaments.
Russia meanwhile has participated uninterruptedly since 1993 (not counting the Soviet Union era) and to say that the failure of one these two nations to reach EuroBasket 2015 would send shock-waves around Europe, would be a huge understatement.
Yet this prospect became a possibility when the two traditional powerhouses were drawn together in the same pool of the 2nd Qualifying Round, in Group G.
Then, when Russia got off to a 0-2 start to their campaign, the shocking prospect came very close to being realised.
But Evgeny Pashutin's team reacted the only way a truly great team can, by getting what they need on the court.
Russia first stormed past Switzerland at home, 101-56, and then travelled to Italy and claimed a big 72-68 victory to get their campaign back on track and wait patiently, but with a sudden big advantage, for the results of Day 6.
"We are not dumb, we knew which country we represent and what needed to be done," veteran guard Anton Ponkrashov said after pouring in 22 points and dishing out eight assists in the game in Italy.