Basketball in Finland has often hidden behind the more popular winter games over the years. The group stages of Eurobasket 2013 in Koper showed that the popularity of summer sports is still there, and now a first ever appearance at the FIBA World Cup awaits them tomorrow – and they have a great shot of advancing.

No doubt, they face their biggest ever challenge as a basketball nation on the opening day against the world and Olympic winners, the USA but from there, the schedule is kind to them; qualification from Group C isn’t out of reach at all.

Finnish veteran Tuukka Kotti, a man who has played more international games for the Nordic nation than anyone else believes that too, and that the team chemistry and loyalty to each other is the key to their recent successes.

“Our system of play is functional and the bulk of the team has stayed the same for some time, which makes preparation easier,” Kutti says. There has also been improvement on the mental side: “More and more players are playing in top European leagues – playing these ‘big games’ helps them improve in all areas of play and makes them less nervous when it comes to the crunch.”

And as a team, Finland were one of the standout teams at last year’s Eurobasket, enough to earn themselves a spot at the World Cup, via the Wild Card entry, selected by FIBA.

It has been reported that over 8,000 Finland fans have purchased tickets for the opening stage in Bilbao, where along with the USA they will face Ukraine, Turkey, New Zealand and Dominican Republic, with many calling their game with New Zealand a key match up for qualification.

The top four teams qualify from the group phase to the second round, which will be played in Barcelona.

Kotti feels the sixth man out in the stands is a crucial part of Finland’s success on the court. They filled the arena in the Slovenian town of Koper last summer for the group stages.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to see the fans receiving us when we arrived in Slovenia for the 2013 European Championship tournament,” he said. “Now there will be even more people and it brings a big energy boost to our game.”