By Jeff Taylor
The clear favourites are Russia, the underdogs are Portugal.
So what’s new? Nothing.
But judging from how unpredictable this EuroBasket has been so far, take nothing for granted when these two sides meet in today's first game of the qualifying round of the competition in Madrid.
Russia, with Andrei Kirilenko among the tournament’s leading scorers and the top rebounder with an average of 14 a game, have brushed aside all three of their opponents so far - Serbia, Israel and the defending champions Greece.
They take on a Portugal side that was dead and buried in Group B after two games – or so we thought.
The Portuguese did not become discouraged and upset Latvia, but only advanced when Croatia beat Spain – the first defeat for the world champions since EuroBasket 2005.
“It’s a big moment for us,” said Portuguese guard Filipe da Silva.
|Da Silva's match-up with Holden is one to watch carefully|
Let it be noted that the Portugal team did sing on the train ride from Seville to Madrid in the early morning hours of Thursday.
“It’s a big moment for basketball in Portugal,” da Silva added. “We’re going to give it our best, and we’re going to see.”
Last Time Out: Portugal beat Latvia 77-67 while Russia thumped Greece 61-53.
Key Match-ups: Battle of the guards, Filipe da Silva v JR Holden.
Statistics: Portugal are No 1 in the EuroBasket in one category they’d rather not be – turnovers. With 56 in three games, their 18.7 average is far more than Russia’s 12.3.
Speaking Out: “They're a good team. They've been in every game so far. They're kind of similar to us in that they're tall at the two and three positions and kind of athletic. So I think we'll be in for a tough game. But as long as we play together and stay consistence as far as defensively, I think we'll be fine.” – JR Holden.