With eight teams now remaining, Eurobasket 2015 starts to turn its attention not just on lifting the trophy aloft on Sunday night, but also securing competitive international basketball for another summer by booking a business trip to glorious Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games next year.
The two finalists will join hosts Brazil, USA, Australia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Argentina at next year’s Games with three spots at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament also up for grabs.
“It’s been our mission not just to win Eurobasket but to play at the Rio Olympics and aim to be in medal contention for that,” explained France guard Nando De Colo as the hosts and favourites prepare for a last eight clash against Latvia on Tuesday.
“We have a good group and a determined group that wants to win for our fans and head to Rio to compete in the Olympics. But we can’t get too ahead of ourselves, as we will have a tough quarter-final match ahead.”
After making hard work of their group phase clashes in Montpellier, France wowed a European attendance record of 26,135 in Lille to dispatch of Turkey in the second round to get to this stage. They currently boast the best defence at Eurobasket, allowing 64.7 points a game and must rely on that stifling defence to guide them against a trigger-happy Latvia side whose offence has been overly woeful, despite their progression.
Latvia have averaged just 70.2 points during their Eurobasket campaign, but like France, own a decent defensive record, allowing just 67.5 points a game.
Spain insists that they are the underdogs in their quarter-final game with Greece but the game itself is fairly closer to predict than what the Spanish generally predict.
The 2008 and 2012 Olympic silver-medalists have usually been slow starters but blossom in the knockout phase. Could Greece be in for a rude awaking? Will the real Spain shine through?
Either way, Greece will show no fear in a game that will determine the first Eurobasket semi-finalist. They have numerous offensive weapons and a lot of set plays that makes Fotis Katsikaris’ side so entertaining to watch.
“It’s been a great summer, and the chemistry is really good,” Fenerbahce guard Kostas Sloukas said. “We want to be in Olympics, but we are taking it one game at a time.”
Spain’s Rudy Fernandez is listed as day-to-day, as is Pau Ribas, as the latter tries to shrug off a virus.
For the quarter-final debutants Czech Republic, they step out of their comfort zone, but in a good way as they face another tournament favourite in the form of Serbia. Jan Vesely has staked his claim as a candidate for Eurobasket 2015 MVP by steering the ambitious Czechs, with an average of 16.8 points and 9.0 rebounds a game, both team-highs.
No doubt, Czech Republic will go into this game relaxed and with nothing to lose against the Serbs who are heavily fancied to move forward.
Sometimes though, that can be the worst of titles.
But Serbia are arguably playing the best basketball of anyone at Eurobasket. Ranked second in points at 87.8 a game and first in assists with a sublime 25.2 so far, they have played attractive basketball, and the flair of the silver medal performance at the FIBA World Cup, last year hasn’t deserted them.
Serbia’s one weakness is that they are leaking points and struggle against quick guards, so Tomas Satoransky could have fun against the Serbian guards on Wednesday.
Lithuania and Italy will conclude the quarter-final schedule with the Azzurri on a high following their 82-52 demolition of Israel and the Baltic giants still sweating after Jonas Maciulis literally bailed them out against Georgia.
“It’s a new game and a chance to be in contention for the Olympics,” Lithuania’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas said.
Italy on the other hand are looking for their first Olympic birth since their silver medal finish in Athens back in 2004. Andrea Bargnani should feature for the Italians on Wednesday despite a minor calf problem, which he sustained in the win over Israel.
Gigi Datome, as reported is out for the tournament.