By Simon Wilkinson
Russia hope being back on Spanish soil will help them break their run of bad luck and make it to the last four of the EuroBasket for the first time in 10 years when they face France in today’s first quarter-final.
The Russians came in third back in 1997 when the competition was last held in Spain, but have since failed to reach the final four and instead saw their results get gradually worse.
They finished fifth two years in 1999, sixth two years later and have not done better than eighth in the last two tournaments.
As for France, they will try to make it back to the semi-finals after reaching that stage of the competition in Belgrade two years ago with a win over then defending champions Lithuania.
Last month, these two teams met in a warm-up game with France cruising to a 92-56 win in Paris.
However, it’s doubtful that today’s encounter will result in a one-sided affair like that.
|Florent Pietrus will be called|
on to help slow down Russia's pair of Kirilenko and Khryapa
Last Time Out: Russia beat Croatia 83-70 while France cruised past Turkey 85-64.
Key Match-up: Andrei Kirilenko and Victor Khryapa v Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus. These are four of the most athletic and versatile forwards in the tournament so far and it will be interesting to see what duo comes out on top. The Russian pair could be fresher than their French as they had yesterday off. Diaw played 28 minutes and led the way with a team-high 18 points against Turkey yesterday, but he needed a game like he had yesterday against Turkey – finishing with a team-high 18 points – while Claude Bergeaud took a good precaution in not playing Pietrus at all.
Key Statistics: Thanks to the likes of J.R Holden, Kirilenko and Khryapa, David Blatt's side leads all teams in assists per game (15.2). France meanwhile are third from bottom in that category averaging less than 10 (9.7).
X Factor: France’s third string center Pape Badiane had 12 points and five rebounds in only 13 minutes of play against Turkey. It will be interesting to see if coach Claude Bergeaud was impressed enough by that performance to see him play a key role against Russia’s big men Aleksey Savrasenko and Nikita Morgunov.
Speaking Out: “Against France, we need to control the tempo, we need to control the game like we did well in the second half against Croatia. When we’re relaxed, when we lose our concentration, we’re not at our best. In recent years, we’ve played well in the group stages of the competition but we didn’t do well when we got to the quarter-finals. We need to break that bad habit." - Russia forward Andrei Kirilenko.