|20 July 2013|
|Sebastian Saiz going for a dunk in Spain's first meeting with Latvia|
The first semi-final of the Sportland U20 European championship holds a quite unique distinction, in that it might be the first game of this importance in recent years where Spain are involved, and are not the favourites.
That is not because onlookers in Tallinn were not impressed with Spain's excellent performance in their 82-60 triumph over Greece in the quarter-finals.
On the contrary, the consensus in the Estonian capital was that Spain played their best game in the tournament on Thursday and were comfortable winners against a side that had impressed with a 6-0 winning streak early on.
Latvia however, were the other team in the championship that kicked off their campaign with a perfect 6-0 record and, crucially, one of those victories had come against Spain.
The Latvians have the best offense in the tournament so far with an average output of 80.6 points-per-game, but on the final day of the First Round, against Spain, they won the game thanks to their defence.
Not so much because they held the Iberian side to 67 points, approximately six below their tournament average, but mainly because they forced them to shoot 37.7 percent from the floor.
When Latvia upped the tempo in that encounter, with the start of the second half, Spain simply could not keep up, and the Baltic side won the third quarter 20-5 to cruise to victory.
The final 75-67 score was down to Spain's fighting spirit and their attitude that dictates you should keep fighting until the last second, even if all is lost, rather than to a real comeback that threatened the Latvians.
There is no way of knowing whether on Saturday Latvia will serve another dose of the same medicine to their opponents, or whether Spain will resemble more La Roja of the quarter-finals rather than that of the First Round.
|Ingus Jakovics might well be the X-factor for Latvia as he goes up against Jaime Fernandez |
One relative certainty is that the protagonists will be the same as in that first clash: Daniel Diez and Kaspars Vecvagars are the first and second-leading scorers in the tournament going into the semi-finals, with 19.3 and 19 points per game, respectively.
They will most probably be their respective teams' main offensive weapons, the Latvian having shown in the quarter-final against Russia that he has recuperated from the injury that costed him two absences in the tournament.
Ojars Silins had collected 12 rebounds for Latvia in that First Round game and was crucial in his team's dominance on the glass; Guillem Vives was the only Spaniard that shot well from three-point range and his shooting skills might prove important also on Friday.
The two players that could tip the balance in one or the other direction are guards Ingus Jakovics and Jaime Fernandez, who might actually guard each other for long stretches of the game.
Spain will not step onto the court on Friday as the favourites, but that does not mean that Latvia -or anyone else, for that matter- consider them as the outsiders.
In truth, anything else but a close, nail-biting encounter will come as a surprise.