|27 July 2013|
|"We just have to play our basketball. No matter who it is [against]" - Kerem Kanter (left)|
Turkey will go into Sunday night's U18 European Championship final confident in their ability to win the gold due to some recent success against the tournament's surprise team.
"We have played them twice - once before the tournament and once in the group stage- and beat them twice," semi-final hero Kerem Kanter summarised after Turkey's come-from-behind two-point win against Spain.
The two teams met in the First Round where Turkey pulled out a convincing 84-76 win on the back of a strong second half performance.
A lot has changed since and Croatia are riding the sudden confidence of point guard Paolo Marinelli.
Marinelli shot just three-for-nine and committed as many turnovers as assists during their first encounter, but has experienced a resurgence over the past two days.
Against Russia in the quarter-final, Marinelli scored 22 points and added nine assists before playing a pivotal first half role in Croatia's semi-final upset of Latvia.
"I was very happy especially with Marinelli's performance over the past two games," Croatian coach Ante Nazor told fibaeurope.com ahead of the final.
"Up until the quarter-finals, he didn't play well and we had huge problems with our organisation and our scoring from the point guard position, but he has become our leader."
Critical to limiting Marinelli will be Turkish point guard Kenan Sipahi.
Sipahi has had a limited influence and is playing under his potential, but will come into the final having played his best game of the tournament against Croatia. He scored 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists in the eight-point win.
Not lacking confidence will be Sipahi's teammate Kanter, who played possibly the best game of his national team career against Spain.
An elated Kanter had could not hide his joy after scoring 14 fourth quarter points in Turkey's semi-final comeback.
"I tried to go after every offensive rebound," said an elated Kanter on Saturday.
|Bruno Zganec enters the final on the back of back-to-back double-doubles and a third on Sunday will take his team a long way towards victory|
"They led by 12, but I did a good job, my teammates did a good job and now we have just one more step to go. We just have to play our basketball. No matter who it is [against]."
Kanter's offensive explosion is a welcome addition to the Turkish offence. Desperately needing some extra production alongside Metecan Birsen's 11 points-per-game and the defensive focus of Emircan Kosut and Egemen Güven, Kanter will be asked to reproduce his touch in the paint against one of the tournament's top big men - Karlo Zganec.
Zganec has averaged 14.5 points and almost 10 rebounds thus far in Latvia and is coming off back-to-back double-doubles.
The 2.06 center was pivotal in negating Latvia's huge size advantage, but Croatia's inspiring interior effort cannot afford to be a one-off according to coach Nazor.
"We must control the paint and rebound like we did in the semi. Scoring easy opportunities and ball movement will be the keys."
The first encounter between these two teams 10 days ago may have gone in Turkey's favour, but Sunday's final promises to offer a hotly contested game between Europe's top two sides.