England and Germany have a well-documented history in all forms of sports. Here at Eurobasket 2013, the two, combined with Scotland to make Great Britain clashed for supremacy in Ljubljana. There were lots at stake as well.
Both teams faced the possibility of elimination yesterday – both at 1-2 records before they met – Germany followed their opening day win against France with losses to Belgium and Ukraine, while Great Britain started their campaign with an overtime win over Israel, it was proceeded by losses to France and a heartbreaker against Belgium.
It was the first time that these two had faced each other on the basketball court, the rivalry perhaps not the same as you would find on a football pitch, but for the players themselves – national pride as well as staying alive in Group A was the prize.
“Germany and England is the country’s biggest sporting fixture,” Germany forward Alex King said.
“Obviously it’s different here in basketball terms because it’s Great Britain, but it’s near enough. It’s a game that we knew would be important as it determines our progression in the group and it has.”
It was a contrasting view from the stands. Germany with around 500 fans cheering them on with drums, foam hands and noise in abundance; Great Britain, a lone Union Jack in the corner and polite applause from their 20 supporters after every basket scored.
On the court, the action was fast-paced and frantic at both ends. This is the Germans’ new way of play. It’s what their coach Frank Menz has implemented into their game. A fast-paced, run-and-gun way but it’s clear that the players can’t do this all game long and it has been a major weakness in their last three games.
It’s something Ukraine took advantage of when they played the Germans earlier in the group. It was a game where Ukraine coach Mike Fratello completely out-coached Menz, who seems reluctant to change how the team plays, even if it doesn’t work.
Simply put: Germany live and die by the three, even when they’re down, they stick to the run-and-gun game.
Great Britain ran different sets – simple sets but it was affective. Germany couldn’t play defence against them at the times where it mattered and if there is another problem that Germany needs to address, it’s boxing out on a loose ball. Giving up 18 offensive boards, seven of them to 1.95m Myles Hesson, who will be playing his basketball in Germany next season with Giessen 46ers is unacceptable at any level.
GB had more hustle, more determination to them. They simply wanted it more. Germany’s fans had more passion and character than their heroes on the court.“We just made a few shots and we really grinded out those defensive stops,” Great Britain’s Andrew Lawrence said, as his side used the rest day to unwind and visit the iconic Lake Bled.
That visit obviously helped prepare the Brits’ mentality leading up to the game as Germany used the rest day to train and speak with the German media through the day.
“It was terrible, of course,” Germany forward Alex King said afterwards.
“We didn’t rebound the ball well enough, two GB players had amazing games on the boards, Myles [Hesson] being one of those guys and that was a heartbreaker for us in the end.
“For us, we have a great amount of rebounders but it isn’t about just one guy or two guys, it’s about the whole team, we all have to get to the boards and be aggressive.”
Great Britain were victorious. In the basketball history books between the two teams, it reads Great Britain 1-0 Germany. But, something that doesn’t ever happen in football took place outside in the blistering sunshine of Ljubljana’s Hala Tivoli. The sight of Germans having a post-game beer with Brits and then the Great Britain team bus leaving with Germans beating their drum and applauding them out of respect was the ultimate show of respect.
At the end of the day, despite the rivalries, there is unity in basketball, fierce sporting rivals Great Britain (England) and Germany proved that in Slovenia. It’s something you might not get in the world’s most played and watched sport.
Picture courtesy of FIBA Europe.