Favourites See Tough Road Ahead

04 December 2011

By Jeff Taylor

Serbia, Montenegro and Italy went into this year's EuroBasket looking for medals and hoping to remain in contention for a spot in the London Olympics.

All came up short of their aims, however, and must now survive some battles just to make it to the EuroBasket in Slovenia in 2013.

On Sunday, the teams discovered which sides they will face in qualifying.

Serbia will face Israel, Montenegro, Estonia, Slovakia and Iceland in qualifying.

Dusan Ivkovic, who led Serbia to a silver medal at EuroBasket 2009 and was in charge of the side the next two summers, has yet to announce if he plans to continue with the national team.

But he was willing to discuss Sunday's draw in Munich.

"Those qualifications are something that we are very familiar with as we've used them to qualify for the EuroBasket in 2009," Ivkovic said from Greece, where he coaches club side Olympiacos.

"Once again, we're in a group together with five other teams, and that's good because we'll play in front of our own fans five times.

"We still remember how great the support was that we had three years ago at Belgrade Arena, and that's very important.

"As for the rivals, probably everybody can agree that us, Israel and Montenegro are favorites for those two top places.

"Still, every game is vital, and we have to give our best in every single game."

Italy Head Coach Simone Pianigiani
Too early to call, says Italy Head Coach Simone Pianigiani

While many would say Serbia are the favorites and not the Montenegrins or Israel, Ivkovic said: "The Italian experience can be used as an example.

"They were favorites in our group back then in 2008, but they didn't qualify for the EuroBasket."

The draw was watched closely in Podgorica, where there wasn't much joy after Sunday's events.

The director of Montenegrin basketball teams, Danilo Mitrovic, said: "We are in a tough, very tough group.

"And, not just that - the system of competition says that we have to play 10 games in just one month.

"The additional problem is our trip to Iceland, to play against team we've already faced in previous qualifications.

"Of course, Serbia will be the main favorites for the first place, and I think that we and Israel will fight for second place.  I hope we'll be second at the end, which will be enough for us to qualify for EuroBasket 2013."

Montenegro finished 21st at EuroBasket 2011 after a victory over F.Y.R. of Macedonia (70-65) and four straight loses, against Bosnia and Herzegovina (86-94), Croatia (81-87), Greece (55-71) and Finland (65-71).

Italy, meanwhile, are in Group F with Turkey, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Belarus.

Italian Basketball Federation president Dino Meneghin said: "We will play to qualify for both EuroBaskets."

The Italian women will also be attempting to reach the Final Round in France in 2013.

"We must focus on our strengths and think that the objective to go after is qualification for both national sides."

The coach of the Italian men, Simone Pianigiani, said: "It's always difficult to comment on a draw for games that are many months away.

"There are so many variables to be considered before next August."

Pianigiani said the goal is to continue to grow as a team and gain greater international credibility.

In Group B are Germany, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg and Sweden.

In Group C, Croatia and Ukraine are up against Austria, Hungary and Cyprus while in Group D, the surprise of EuroBasket 2011, Georgia, meet Bosnia and Herzegovina, Latvia, Netherlands and Romania.

EuroBasket 2011 sides Georgia, Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are in Group D with the Netherlands and Romania.

In Group E Finland go up against Poland, Belgium, Switzerland and Albania.

Finland were impressive at this year's EuroBasket after making it through the Additional Qualifying Round and they will be in Group E with Poland, Switzerland, Albania and Belgium.


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