Preview by Jeff Taylor
|Spain blew out France, 96-69, when the two sides met in the Second Round. Eight days later, don't be surpirsed if you see one of the most evenly matched EuroBasket Finals ever|
The world didn't see the glitzy game they had wanted to see when Spain and France met eight days ago in a battle for Group E supremacy at the EuroBasket.
With a spot in the EuroBasket Quarter-Finals already assured for both teams, France coach Vincent Collet decided to rest starting center Joakim Noah and point guard Tony Parker and Spain blew out Les Bleus.
All the glamour will be on show on Sunday, though, because the two sides are squaring off in the gold-medal game.
France won't be holding anything back.
To reach the Final, Spain whipped Slovenia in the last eight and then edged F.Y.R. of Macedonia, while the French survived against Greece and then defeated Russia in the Semi-Finals.
Both the Spanish and French were dominant on the boards in those triumphs.
Each squad had players that took their games to the elite level, too, with Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro torching F.Y.R. of Macedonia for 35 points and the high-flying Nicolas Batum pouring in 19 for France against the Russians.
At full strength, France and Spain are awesome teams.
Against Russia, Batum continued his hot shooting from long range, making three of five on the night to improve to 15-of-34 overall at the EuroBasket.
A lot of his points came at the right time for the French, too.
Russia coach David Blatt admitted: "Batum made big plays at crucial times."
The 22-year-old also grabbed seven rebounds, swatted two shots and came up with a steal.
France have a lot of weapons, including Parker and Nando de Colo in the backcourt, Noah, Ali Traore and Kevin Seraphin at center, the versatile forwards Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus and the athletic Charles Kahudi, one of the revelations of the EuroBasket.
Traore has been particularly effective, despite being axed from the squad a few weeks before the EuroBasket.
Collet had to bring him back after center Ronny Turiaf was lost to a hand injury.
Traore has given the team a solid back-up center with an athletic, physical presence.
The French are elated to be playing for a gold medal.
"It's only the second time for France to reach the Final, the first time was 1949," said Collet.
"We're very happy because we played our best game of the tournament (against Russia)."
VIDEO: CLAUDIO COLDEBELLA PREVIEWS THE FINAL, RUDY FERNANDEZ, NICOLAS BATUM AND VICTOR CLAVER TALK ABOUT THEIR OPPONENTS
For Spain, the team looks as talented and hungry as ever.
While Jorge Garbajosa and Alex Mumbru retired from the side earlier this year, Jose Calderon is back at point guard for the first time since the 2008 Olympics and the one-two punch of Pau and Marc Gasol in the low post is proving to be very difficult to overcome.
If either needs a break, Sergio Scariolo has Serge Ibaka and Felipe Reyes to insert into the line-up.
There are also the explosive Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez.
Navarro is now 31 but playing as well as he ever has, as his 35-point game against F.Y.R. of Macedonia showed.
While Fernandez didn't excel in that game, Sergio Llull did as his replacement.
Scariolo and Collet have star-studded line-ups and it all means that fans are in for a real treat.
Head-to-Head: Spain and France have played against each other 18 times in EuroBaskets, with Les Bleus having won just three of those. Spain beat France 96-69 in the Second Round to win Group E of this year's event.
Last Time Out: Spain defeated F.Y.R. of Macedonia, 92-80, and France overcame Russia, 79-71.
Key Match-Up: The frontline of Marc and Pau Gasol against France's Joakim Noah and Kevin Seraphin.
Key Stat: Juan Carlos Navarro is shooting 52.9% (nine of 17) from long range and 61.5% (24 of 39) overall
X-Factor: Nando de Colo of France has shot 17 of 32 (53.1%), including a perfect eight of eight (100%) at the line, in France's last three victories over Lithuania, Greece and Russia.
Sounding Off: "On Sunday, Spain will be clear favorites. They have dominated the EuroBaskets for several years. It's the best team in the world behind Team USA. They are strong but not unbeatable. Anything can happen," says France's Nicolas Batum.