In major tournaments Slovenia are a little like England’s national football side. They begin well, but when it comes to the knockout phases, they can’t get the job done.
Since gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia in the early-nineties, Slovenia have earned the reputation as one of world basketball’s major nations. But their fourth-placed finish two years ago at EuroBasket in Poland remains their best showing at any basketball tournament.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh? I don’t know. I mean Slovenia as an independent nation have only existed in FIBA-organised competitions since 1992, and their first tournament was the 1993 EuroBasket in Germany, where they didn’t qualify from the group stages. So nearly 20 years in building their international programme, which isn’t long, let’s face it. And the current product they have to offer is pretty good.
Are they worthy of a medal finish? Yes, I think they are. I said the same thing two years ago. EuroBasket 2009 was the perfect opportunity for at least a bronze in Poland. Drawn in the toughest group of the four – with Spain, Serbia and Great Britain, Slovenia topped the group and looked sure of a bronze medal finish. The belief was there and the chemistry was evident.
Unfortunately for coach Jure Zdovc’s men, they looked a beaten team the moment the third quarter began in their semi-final match with Serbia. Eventhough, they took it to overtime, that belief and chemistry that was shining so brightly throughout the campaign, had vanished. Serbia ended up 96-92 victors – and in the bronze medal game with Greece, they again looked tired – as did the Greeks in fairness. Greece ended up winning perhaps the ugliest game of the tournament to claim third place and leave the Slovenians with nothing.
The 2010 World Championship, for me was always going to be a big ask, despite vital wins over Croatia, Brazil and Australia, they ran into an in-form Turkey side in the quarter-finals and were beaten 95-68.
But that is all in the past now. From being awarded EuroBasket 2013 to easily drawing the most comfortable group in Lithuania this Summer, Slovenia have a lot to be thankful for at the moment.
But could that lead to another downfall?
Whilst Slovenia are hot favourites to qualify from Group D as winners, with obstacles of Russia, Belgium, Ukraine, Georgia and Bulgaria awaiting them in Klaipeda. Could a mental road-block damage their chances in the latter stages?
With Russia providing their toughest task out of all their group games, Slovenia should no doubt be gracing us with their presence in the second round. The question being though, will the men in green be too relaxed to face off against the supposed “bigger nations?”
It might seem a stupid question at first. But, think about it, you had the USA in 2002. They began the World Championships with a 100% record in group play, and had a cocky attitude in the way they approached the knockout phase – like they had the gold medal in the bag. A defeat to Argentina and a quarter-final knockout by FR Yugoslavia on their home court in Indianapolis rocked them so badly that USA’s international basketball program didn’t fully recover until the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, when a Kobe Bryant-led ‘Redeem Team’ won the gold medal game against Spain.
To a lesser extent, you can count the efforts of France just two years ago at EuroBasket in Poland. Winning their first six games, before they put-in a lazy showing against eventual winners Spain, losing that game by 20 (86-66).
Beno Udrih has announced he will not take part at this year’s EuroBasket, New Jersey Nets shooter Sacha Vujacic, a hated figure in his native country, because of his arrogant nature towards the national team smirked and said “no” at a New Jersey Nets media session last month in London, so it seems to be the usual suspects who are saying no to representing their country this Summer, of course more news will develop as we get closer to EuroBasket, we are still over 130 days away.
Yes, all teams play their hardest, and play to win, so they go all out to get that all-important W. But a lethargic approach to the game happens, could Slovenia be the next victims in Lithuania?
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net
Follow John on Twitter @johnswisshobbs