|06 September 2012|
|Marcin Gortat knew Poland were facing a must-win game in Finland and he stepped up to lead his team to victory and, as it turned out, to EuroBasket 2013 two hours later |
There was relief. There was joy. But there were no scenes of jubilation immediately at the final buzzer for Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Czech Republic, after they won their respective Wednesday games.
They did not know it at the time, but all three teams would earn a place at EuroBasket 2013 before the night was over.
Their triumphs were just the first link in a chain of favourable results that left them with a ticket to Slovenia next summer, when the dust on Wednesday's games had settled.
Even Finland, despite losing to Poland, saw themselves benefiting from the combination of results and no longer need an extra win to make absolutely certain they will play at EuroBasket 2013.
The confirmation for some came quite later, in the locker room, on the team bus or at the hotel during a well-deserved late dinner.
For the Czech Republic, Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the key result was not even from a game in their own group.
The Bosnians travelled to Georgia knowing that this was a must-win game, especially having lost the reverse fixture at home.
They rode out 107-103 winners after one of the most entertaining and thrilling games in the Qualification Round and thought they have to wait until Saturday and beat Romania to qualify from Group D.
A bit later on the night, the Czechs were reaching a 90-71 victory over Portugal at home.
Already before their game was over they knew that Turkey had fallen to Italy in the other Group F game and thought they would just have to sit tight for six days and make sure they protect their 18-point advantage over Turkey when they travelled to Istanbul.
Little did the Bosnians and the Czechs know that their tickets to the EuroBasket were in the process of being issued in the little town of Schwechat, close to Vienna.
When Austria defeated Hungary, 97-81, late on Wednesday night, they not only kept their chances of clinching third spot in Group C alive, but they also inadvertently gifted qualification to the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Finland.
That is because even if these three teams lose their respective games on the final day, they cannot drop to a record lower than 5-3 and, at worse, finish third in their group but still with a better record than whichever team finishes in third place in Group A and in Group C.
For Poland meanwhile, things were more straightforward. They still had to wait for about two hours after their Wedensday game was over, but at least the welcome surprise came from their own group.
Switzerland's unexpected 82-73 victory over Belgium meant that Poland's earlier hard-won 96-91 away triumph at Finland was worth Marcin Gortat's weight in gold.
Poland have secured a top-two finish in Group E and become the ninth team to clinch a spot at EuroBasket 2013 through the Qualification Round, along with Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland and the Czech Republic.
There are now only a further seven places available through the EuroBasket Qualification Round, to be decided on Saturday and Tuesday.
Spain, France, Russia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Lithuania, Greece, Slovenia and Olympics hosts Great Britain have qualified directly to next summer's showpiece event.