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Column: World Cup form guide and who we will miss

As I type this from my terrace in sunny Madrid, preparing for the World Cup Round of 16 there are some things that I look forward to seeing and things that I unfortunately won’t be able to see live this time around. This year’s championship has brought us exhilarating contests, some great stories and interesting match-ups to follow.

So, Grenada, Seville, Bilbao and Gran Canaria can be left to nurse their World Cup hangover as they now leave Madrid and Barcelona to enjoy the rest of the party.

ROUND OF 16 FORM GUIDE 

1 – SPAIN

The hosts edge USA in the form guide because not only did Spain have a much tougher group, but they won all their games in dominant fashion, leaving great basketball nations like Serbia, Brazil and European champions France for dust.

The basketball Spain have played thus far has been a joy to watch, the transition game is a thing of beauty. The Gasol brothers led by Ricky Rubio have been playing for fun and with Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro in the mix as well. It will be hard not to look past them for a podium finish.

2 – USA 

The current world champions and Olympic gold-medal winners have strolled through Group C. They merely had to just show up to beat Finland, New Zealand and Dominican Republic but were tested against Mike Fratello’s Ukraine and especially against Turkey. Even then though, Mike Krzyzewski’s side simply switched gears and accelerated away. Against Turkey, it was a matter of when they will push the tempo and in the fourth quarter, they did just that.

Neighbours Mexico will need a miracle if they are to even push the USA in the Round of 16.

3 – GREECE 

Greece have quietly gone about their business in a competitive Group B, but finished with a 5-0 record, notching up impressive wins against Argentina and Croatia. Even without Vassilis Spanoulis they have dictated the game and were deserved winners of the group.

An intriguing contest against Serbia awaits.

4 – SLOVENIA 

The Dragic brothers have done Gran Canaria some damage over the last week. Goran and Zoran are in the top two in efficiency ratings and are averaging 17.4 and 12.2 points per game respectively; they will no doubt fancy their chances against Dominican Republic in Barcelona on Saturday.

Domen Lorbek is also breaking out of his shell a little more on the international circuit. Bettering his 7 points-a-game tally at last year’s Eurobasket with 12 points.

5 – BRAZIL 

ESPN’s Marc Stein had Brazil as the third best team in his pre-World Cup Power Rankings and at first; I was wondering what he was smoking? A team that needed a Wild Card to get in and not to mention they had a disastrous FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas.

But I stand corrected. Apart from the blip against Spain, Brazil have played as a team and in such a tough group, really have flourished and shown that Samba-style excitement on the court. A rematch of the Round of 16 game in 2010 with archenemies Argentina is eminent though. The tie of the round in my view.

6 – LITHUANIA 

The Eurobasket runners-up could be playing much better than they have. Yes, I might have been a bit harsh but despite topping Group D slightly, Lithuania could be playing better.

Still it’s very hard to look past their 4-1 record and even when they are not playing at their best, they are getting wins – and that’s all that matters. New Zealand will be a good test for the Lithuanians and Sekla doesn’t want to go home just yet.

7 – TURKEY 

The 2010 runners-up were the only team in this second round that pushed the USA to its ‘near’ limit and despite two losses, have played fantastic team basketball, as well as shooting the ball very well through careful shot selection.

Despite Omer Asik’s NBA status, Emir Preldzic is the ring-leader in the Turkey camp so far. His team-high 11.8 points though shows how well they are playing as a team. They are sharing the ball, and it could cause Australia problems in the second round.

8 – FRANCE 

France and Argentina were neck-and-neck for eighth, but I’ve gone for Le Bleus because they had a tougher group (sorry to any Argentinian readers). But in a tough Group A, that included the hosts, France have handled their business professionally, especially as they had to pick themselves up following an opening day defeat to Brazil.

Then again – they lost the opening match-up at Eurobasket last year to Germany – and looked what happened there.

9 – ARGENTINA 

Argentina have had some scares, en route to a crunch second round clash with Brazil in Madrid but with Luis Scola, they have been looked after. Question remains though: Where would Argentina be in this World Cup without Scola? And what happened if Scola was marked out of the game, it is possible.

Just so you understand where I’m coming from. Points: Scola (21.6ppg), Walter Herrman (9.8ppg). Just saying.

10 – AUSTRALIA 

Had Australia put more effort into their final group game with Angola, they might have been a bit higher in these rankings, but a lot of the time, they looked dis-interested and sloppy. Almost like they didn’t care.

That said though … they are in the Round of 16 and it’s a new ball game. Turkey will be a tricky one though.

11 – CROATIA 

They struggled to beat the Philippines and lost to Senegal, yet they beat Argentina and Puerto Rico (what a let down they were). I think it’s safe to say that Croatia is the World Cup’s unpredictable team right now.

They face France next. Tough ask? Or will they show the tournament-ready Croatia that we are used to seeing?

12 – SERBIA 

Milos Teodosic has been promising but Serbia look like a tired team at the moment. Their group stage ended with a damaging loss to the hosts, who tore them apart.

They will be tested against Greece in the Round of 16. Could a new and more dangerous Serbia come out? Or will they leave the World Cup on a whimper?

13 – NEW ZEALAND 

Personally, it’s a shame that New Zealand’s progression to the Round of 16 has been overshadowed by their ‘viral’ video of the pre-game Haka against a confused USA team who didn’t see it coming. Even though, it’s a ritual used by most New Zealanders. Look at the rugby union side.

The Tall Blacks though should be getting a lot of credit chucked in their direction though. They started 0-3 and looked like they had no hope of qualification but were impressive against Ukraine and broke Finland’s hearts to progress – not to mention sending 8,000-crazed Finns home. Lithuania will be a stern test though, regardless of how they’re playing.

14 – DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 

Like Argentina, the Dominican Republic’s offence ends with Francisco Garcia. He’s been averaging 20.2 points per game and is the only threat in the absence of Al Horford. James Feldeine shows promise but often makes the wrong decision on offence.

They have a tough match-up against Slovenia in Barcelona on Saturday. Odds are not in their favour.

15 – MEXICO 

After more than 40 years since they were last at the world championships / World Cup, Mexico have advanced to the second round for the first time ever. A team that no one expected to win the FIBA Americas will contest a second round contest at the FIBA World Cup.

Unfortunately, it’s against the USA. But, Mexico will just be happy that they made it.

16 – SENEGAL 

Like Mexico, Senegal will just happy that they are in the Round of 16. In honesty, most were expecting the Africans to compete with the Philippines for last spot in Group B, but instead Puerto Rico misses out (along with Gilas Pilipinas).

Elimination looks to be certain as they face Spain in the next round, but from nearly being expelled from this World Cup due to being banned from FIBA at the time to a second round placement. Senegal has a lot to be proud of.

TEAMS THAT WILL BE MISSED… 

PHILIPPINES 

I’ll miss this courageous group of players the most. For a week, they brought joy to so many people that are not even from the Asian nation. Despite being undersized, they out-played a lot of the so-called more established nations and were edged out due to their size and fitness. The supporters were loud, proud and passionate as well. Every basket, no matter what the score was, would be cheered like it was a game-winner. On the plus point, they are looking to host the 2019 World Cup. Maybe we haven’t heard the last of them, eh?

UKRAINE 

It was a real pleasure watching these guys play their hearts out for three weeks at Eurobasket last year and this was a justified reward. Appearing in their first World Cup brought uncertainty over how they would play, but legendary coach Mike Fratello had them well prepared and they missed out on qualification by a narrow margin.

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