The groups have now been determined for EuroBasket 2011, and the early reactions and thoughts are that Slovenia have the easiest group, Group A is, by a country mile the ‘group of death’ and Great Britain fans are asking the question: “How the hell are we meant to get to Panevezys?”
As a British journo and a Great Britain fan, I was hoping for the boys to get a relatively easy draw – you know, where they would have a chance of going through, as I might have to miss the group stages, as my sister is getting married a day before the tournament (and a hangover whilst on a plane is not a wise move). But, the draw was unkind to me, and Chris Finch and the GB lads are now stuck in the ‘group of death’ for the second EuroBasket running.
For my friends in Slovenia, the crafty-souls have no doubt got the best group of the four top- seeded teams. Played, it’s what rumoured to be the easiest of cities for transportation. FIBA’s way of saying thanks, right? (I’m joking).
All-in-all, a fantastic ceremony, backed by four interesting groups – so, let’s look at them all?
Group A: Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Great Britain, Poland, Qualifier 2.
With no disrespect to the remaining 18 teams competing, but all eyes will be on this group, as it houses the holders, the World Championship silver medallists and the hosts, who will have the biggest and nosiest following out of all the sides in the tournament.
The dark-horses in this group from hell are Great Britain; and Poland are by no means to be taken lightly – they made some noise in their own backyard two years ago, as for either Portugal, Finland or Hungary, they will be favourites to finish bottom of this group.
Spain will lock horns with Great Britain again, after the epic encounter two years ago in Warsaw when the Brits nearly shocked the world (and nearly got me chucked from the media seats) by coming within minutes of beating the Sergio Scariolo’s men. For Spain, they will probably look past that and just concentrate on getting through this group. They were so over- confident in Poland, refusing to stay in the team hotel, and choosing their own plush 5-star place, and trying to breeze into their game with Serbia and losing that, and nearly losing to Great Britain. They woke up, and we know the results. This time around, expect a Spain side eager to go.
Turkey is a proud basketball nation at the moment, hosting and finishing second in the World Championships. They will go into EuroBasket like Spain, ready to go, and I will go as far as saying they have a decent shot of going all the way. They clash, once again with Lithuania at EuroBasket, and the hosts will be keen to right the wrongs from their EuroBasket clash in Poland – when Turkey beat them, 84-76.
Lithuania has the eyes of an entire nation on them. You couldn’t put it any clearer than that, really. Desperate to do well on home soil and the first game against Great Britain will be their biggest test. It’s the first game of the tournament, there will be 6,000 screaming Lithuanian fans at the Cido Arena, add to that the thousands that will be watching on TV, the weight of the nation rests on the first game, if they get through that – they can rest easier, then they can get ready for the next day.
Two teams that have the best chance of dismantling the three aforementioned nations are Great Britain and Poland. Team GB did so well at EuroBasket two years ago, despite leaving winless, and even looking at this group, the early thoughts have to be: we have nothing to lose, prepare diligently and just go all out. What else can the Brits do? Their EuroBasket honeymoon is over. As for Poland, they are certainly not to be counted out, a team that reached the knockout stages of the last tournament, that they hosted will be eager to make a splash here. Like GB, they have nothing to lose; it’s a case of go hard or go home.
Group B: Serbia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia.
Group B sees the return of Italy to the major European basketball arena. And despite Serbia, France and Germany being early favourites to advance, I see this as one of the more interesting groups to look out for.
Serbia returned to life in Poland two years ago after a hiatus on the podium from 2002 onwards. It was a welcome return for Serbia, who thoroughly deserved their place as second place at EuroBasket 2009. Still young and still hungry for more success, Serbia shouldn’t have many problems getting though this group.
France went through an additional qualifying round to advance to EuroBasket 2009 – they went on to record the best overall record at the event, their only defeat came at the hands of Spain in the quarter-finals. A fifth place finish was deserved and after a sub-par World Championship, the French will be hungry and eager to do well in Lithuania. They have the ability to do well, it’s a case of which team decides to come onto the floor come August 31st.
Germany without Dirk Nowitzki are a team that look lost when it matters – and with Dallas Mavericks chief, Mark Cuban recently slating FIBA and banning his players from taking part in any FIBA-sanctioned tournaments, it looks likely that Nowitzki will give this event a miss as well. Which is a shame, as the Germans are due a good run; but it seems that Cuban pulls the strings of fate for the Germans.
A sixth straight EuroBasket for Israel, who like two years ago, had to qualify to get to Lithuania. There is talent on the roster, but if they are to get through this group, their best shot of dismantling the three favourites is to beat Germany. But Italy and Latvia will be knocking on their door.
Bentornati a EuroBasket, Italia (welcome back to EuroBasket, Italy). But their passage to the tournament is very controversial – having originally not qualified, the Italians got a little help from FIBA Europe, who decided to extend the number of teams to 24 for this year’s EuroBasket, thus making the qualifying campaign a little pointless, but, at the same time, FIBA have promised the best EuroBasket ever – so I’m not moaning. A few Twitter feeds last night were saying that Italy will show no fear and that they are ready for who-ever. Great attitude to have, and out of the other two sides expected to miss out on the next round (Israel and Latvia), I think Italy has the best chance of progressing. Personally this group, apart from France and Serbia is too close to call.
Latvia, will have the home court advantage in this group, it isn’t far to travel for the Latvian supporters, and they will be there in numbers. Whether they will advance in this group is another matter. But, I wouldn’t count them out by any means.
Groups C and D to follow in part 2.
John Hobbs for Talkbasket.net
Follow John on Twitter @johnswisshobbs