By David HeinNo head coach, 3,000 hostile fans screaming at you and trailing by nine in the fourth quarter. No problem if you're Spain, who showed tremendous resiliency in overcoming Latvia 56-52 to set up a date with Russia in the final of the U20 European Championship for Women.
But it's five summers of winning youth gold and silver medals that helped Spain through the tough moments in Liepaja and reach the U20 women's final for the third time. And the Iberians are looking to take one step up from the 2009 silver and add 2010 gold to their 2007 title.
"This is a big reward for all the hard work we have done so far," said Spain star Marta Xargay, who made just 2-of-10 from the field but hit 8-of-10 free throws including 6-of-6 in the fourth quarter.
|Coach Lucas Mondelo missed the last five minutes of his team's win over Latvia.|
Spanish coach Lucas Mondelo was expelled from the game with more than five minutes left for picking up his second technical foul. And it was Xargay, who was on Spain U20 silver-medal winning team last summer, who appeared to take the Spanish team upon her back.
"She's amazing, an amazing player. She helped everybody in the end to win this game," said Amaya Gastaminza of Xargay.
"We knew we had to fight together as a team to win this game and go to the final," said Xargay of her thoughts when Mondelo was sent away from the sidelines.
"We knew that this was a very important game and a very important moment. We had to just keep going," said Spanish assistant Anna Caula, who took over the coaching duties.
"At that moment we showed the true team spirit of this team. It was the most important moment of the game because we showed what kind of team we are."
When asked if she was nervous when she was handed the reins of the team, Caula admitted: "At that moment you can't really think about anything other than just continuing to coach. But in the end I was just so happy and relieved."
Spain now face off with Russia, who are in their sixth U20 final and looking for title number five to go along with 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. They took silver in 2002.
"It's going to be a really tough game. They have really tough players inside. Also they have good shooters," said Xargay of the final.
"We will really have to work hard to beat them. We have to play good defense and rebounds and just be ourselves," added Gastaminza.
When asked what it would mean to have a gold medal hanging from her neck on Sunday, Xargay said: "It would be an unbelievable moment for the whole team."
But receiving a medal will be nothing new for the Spanish players - 10 of whom won silver at the U19 World Championship for Women last summer in Thailand.
Three of the players - Leonor Rodriguez, Laura Gil and Xargay - will win their fourth European gold or silver medal since the U16s in 2005. And four others will bring home a third European gold or silver.
That tradition of winning was the difference - and the reason not having a head coach on the sidelines and 3,000 hostile fans screaming did not phase the Spanish.