SF Preview: Spain vs. France

19 September 2013

EUROBASKET 2013

Ricky Rubio (Spain)
Ricky Rubio has arguably the biggest challenge of the Spaniards on Friday night when he is dealt the responsibility of halting Tony Parker

It's almost unavoidable, impossible to ignore, and required viewing for any basketball fan: Red against Blue, Spain against France, a modern European classic, tips off in Ljubljana on Friday night.

This time, unlike their last EuroBasket clash, in 2011, the prize at stake is not the gold medal, but the ticket to the big final.

But the main premise remains the same and it consists of France, one of the most talented teams on the planet, chasing this elusive win in a knock-out game over the dominant, two-time defending European champions Spain.

The last meaningful French win against the Spanish armada came eight years ago and it was a 30-point thrashing in the bronze-medal game of EuroBasket 2005, behind 25 points from Tony Parker.

The latest was in the group stages of the 2010 World Championship but the game had no real significance for either team.

A common parameter in both of those French victories was that Pau Gasol was absent from the Spanish team, just like at EuroBasket 2013.

However, his brother Marc is in Slovenia, and is in the best form of his career - he leads Spain in scoring (13 points-per-game) and rebounds (7.7 rebounds-per-game).

Parker, as usual, is also present and, as usual, leads France in scoring (18.3 points-per-game) and assists (3.6 per-game).

"I think that probably Marc plays a more decisive role on our team that Tony plays in France," Spain coach Juan Orenga said on the eve of the game.

"Our defence is anchored around him and the way we play on offence he gets a touch almost on every possession."

Every single player on either side, from the most battle-hardened veteran to the national team rookie, is fully aware of recent history between the two teams.

But there is none that does not consider it would be a mistake on their side to be overly weary of the opposing star.

"It's difficult, very difficult to stop Parker, what we can try to do is to be very careful with him without forgetting about the rest of the great players they have," Spain point guard Sergio Rodriguez said.

"We have a lot of players we can rotate on him but it's still difficult, we have to be concentrated 100% on everyone."

The two nations last clashed in an official game in the quarter-finals of the 2012 Olympic Gamnes, and Spain prevailed 66-59.

Spain also defeated France in both warm-up games between the two sides during their preparations for the EuroBasket in August.

Stats Don't Lie: Spain have the best defence at EuroBasket, giving up only 61.1 points-per-game to their opponents on average, while France have the best offence, as they are scoring 78.2 points-on-average. One should not necessarily expect this to be an 'immovable object meets unstoppable force' encounter though, as Spain delivered their best offensive performance and France their best defensive display in the tournament during their respective quarter-final clashes.

Key Match-Up: Tony Parker vs. Ricky Rubio (initially). Rubio has the speed and athletic ability to make life difficult for the French leader, who will stay on the floor on Friday night for as much as his lungs and legs allow him. Spain meanwhile have the luxury of using Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull and possibly Jose Calderon in addition to Rubio at the point guard spot.

They Say:
Spain player Sergio Rodriguez: "France is a very physical team, they play at the limit always, with great intensity. So offence against them is complicated and we need to stay calm at the start, maintain the high level of defence we have shown throughout this championship and try to take them out of their usual game so to create problems for them."

France player Nicolas Batum: "Spain are the favourites and I am not just saying that to take pressure off our backs, it's a fact. Quite simply, they are the reigning European champions and we have lost to them every time in the last years."

 

 


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