Bulgaria edged out a victory in the first leg of their Eurobasket 2015 final round against Estonia in Sofia, but the tie itself is left well poised for the return game in Tallinn on Sunday.
The nerves were clearly evident though as both teams made numerous errors, committing a total of 28 turnovers and both shooting the ball horrendously at times.
Kaloyan Ivanov led Bulgaria to victory with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds in the low-scoring contest. He was ably supported by Deyan Ivanov – who got 12.
Bulgarian coach Konstantin Papazov felt the pressure that his team were going through but states that the pressure is on Estonia on Sunday.
“It was really hard for us in the first half. It was obvious that both teams were nervous – we were under pressure, because this is a final for the spot at Eurobasket 2015,” he said.
“This game doesn’t show the real abilities of the two teams. Both teams played very good in defence. Today we were really nervous and that is why our shooting percentage was so bad. It is a question of psychology. I wish we’d won with bigger difference. We have the quality and will try to win in Tallinn. We played good defence today and if we go on this way, it will be easier for us to score. The pressure stays with the hosts as it was with us today.”
For the visitors though, this was an opportunity wasted in terms of winning the game itself. Leading 35-26 with a minute left in the second quarter and seemingly in control, Estonia showed more will than the hosts did and with the second half approaching, looked good.
The hosts though hit back in devastating fashion, an 18-0 run spanning the closing stages of the second, and moving on to the third quarter damaged Estonia’s fighting spirit, as they crumbled, scoring only six points to Bulgaria’s 19 and turning the game on its head.
Estonia though fought back in the final quarter, giving themselves a fantastic chance of a spot at Eurobasket 2015 in the Ukraine.
Rain Veideman led the visitors’ charge with 11 points.
“It was a tough game,” he said.
“It is a good result as we are going back to Tallinn. With these three points difference that we lost we have a good chance to qualify for Eurobasket 2015. We played really good in the first half. The third quarter was a disaster for us. In the final quarter we had some [nervous] situations, but it is good for us, although we lost.”
Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe.