Kosovo stun FYR of Macedonia as World Cup 2019 qualifiers get underway

FIBA
Photo: FIBA

The winding road to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China began with a historic moment for Kosovo, who registered their maiden international win in the European Pre-Qualifiers on Wednesday.

After losing all six games in their EuroBasket 2017 Qualifiers campaign, Kosovo did not take long to get on the board this time, holding on to take a 72-68 victory against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in a packed house in the capital Prishtina.

Having allowed a double-digit lead to melt away to as little as two points in the fourth quarter, the home team survived down the stretch after Leonard Mekaj kept his cool from the free-throw line to clinch the win.

Dardan Berisha got up for the big occasion with a 28-point night, Granit Rugova and Fisnik Rugova had 12 and 11 points respectively, while Jordan Theodore collected a team-high 22 points and 6 assists for the visitors.

All the way across in Norrkoping, where the Pre-Qualifiers officially tipped off, Sweden rode Marcus Eriksson’s hot hand to storm back from behind and defeat Bosnia and Herzegovina 81-73 in Group A, settling some old debts from dealings in the EuroBasket Qualifiers.

The game of 15 ties and 14 lead changes was decided by Eriksson’s late-game heroics, with the 23-year-old shooting guard draining one big shot after another for a game-high total of 25 points, including a dagger triple in the final minute of the game.

Victor Gaddefors had 16 points and 3 steals, while Nicholas Spires collected 14 points and swatted away an impressive 6 blocks for the winners. Teenager Dzanan Musa led Bosnia and Herzegovina in scoring with 17 points after going 8-of-10 from the free-throw stripe.

Meanwhile, Armenia celebrated a convincing 75-61 victory over Slovak Republic in the other Group A game of the day behind a 22-point and 7-rebound performance by Allyn Hess, while Ryan Boatright also filled up the scoresheet with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

Austria’s twin tower pairing of Jakub Poltl and Rashid Mahalbasic was an unsolvable mystery for Group B rivals Albania, scoring 22 points apiece at the Olympic Park of Tirana to help their side inscribe a 79-51 victory to get the Pre-Qualifiers started on a positive note.

Elsewhere, point guard Dee Bost stared for Bulgaria with 23 points in an 82-71 victory against Portugal in Group D. Chavdar Kostov scored 18 points, and Alexandar Vezenkov chipped in with a double-double of 13 points, 13 rebounds whilst also adding 5 assists.

Written by FIBA.