Final Preview: Italy vs. Latvia

21 July 2013

U20 MEN

7. Stefano Tonut (Italy), 11. Eric Lombardi (Italy)
One thing Italy do extremely well despite their lack of height is rebounding as a team, here Eric Lombardi and Stefano Tonut

One way or the other, history will be made on Sunday night in Tallinn when either Italy or Latvia step on the top of the podium at the Sportland U20 European Championship.

Neither of the two nations has conquered the gold medal in the U20 age group before.

Italy's last success at a comparable level dates back two decades, when they claimed gold in the (now defunct) U22 category; Latvia have never reached the title game before.

None the less, either result will be a far cry from a one-hit wonder: the mere presence of the two countries in the final in Estonia is the seal of approval on an effort to return to former glory for Italy, or to emerge as a considerable force in men's basketball for Latvia.

Italy claimed silver at the U20 European Championship in Bilbao two years ago, under the same coach, Stefano Sacripanti, while Latvia have claimed bronze on two occasions in recent years in the U18 European Championship.

While it cannot be guaranteed that the young players on either team are fully aware of the historical significance of Sunday's final, you can be sure that both sets of opponents arrive at this big clash full of confidence for their respective chances.

Latvia were touted early on by many in Tallinn as perhaps the best team in the tournament, complete at all positions, physically strong but at the same time impressively explosive.

In Kaspars Vecvagars and Ingus Jakovics they have two playmakers who can conduct the well-tuned orchestra or execute themselves; they do not have the towering ‘seven-footer' center but against Italy, they don't need one either.

Italy's biggest player is power forward Aristide Landi, at 2.03m, and only two more players reach two meters of height.

They are the smallest team in the tournament in Estonia but then again they did not turn into that suddenly before the final.

The Azzurri were prepared for the size disadvantage since day one, and while they were not among the favourites initially, their magnificent execution of ‘small-ball', their text-book perfect full-court press and gutsy, never-say-die attitude have convinced even the skeptics along the way to the title game.

8. Janis Berzins (Latvia)
Janis Berzins impersonates the explosiveness and athleticism that helped Latvia play so successfully in Tallinn

Every clash in the last four of this tournament has been a repeat of a match-up in a previous stage, and the big final of course can be no exception.

There is however really only one, but crucial conclusion to be drawn from Latvia's 88-81 win in that Second Round clash between the two finalists.

Latvia, unlike pretty much any other team in this tournament, have the personnel to match Italy's frenetic tempo, with the added benefit of the bigger size.

Perhaps they cannot do it for 40 minutes, but in that first meeting they were so exceptional during the first three quarters that they had already claimed a 70-54 advantage going into the final frame, deeming almost irrelevant the fact that Italy were faster running up and down the floor in the remaining ten minutes.

Italy and Latvia are the teams with the highest offensive output in the tournament and the fact they combined for 169 points during that first encounter, can only be a good sign that we are for a high-scoring, spectacular final.

But in every other respect, this will be a whole new game, a game where history will be made.

 

Highlights from the teams' first meeting only five days before the final


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