The fan zone outside the Stozice Arena was a sea of green, as they filed out after Slovenia’s 84-77 success over previously unbeaten Italy in yesterday’s second round clash at Eurobasket.
They were drinking, some were toasting the host nation’s victory, but there were not many happy faces in the fan zone, post-game.
Anxious would be the best way to describe their faces and overall reaction to the win.
The Slovenian fans are a smart bunch. They know the game of basketball. It’s a passion of theirs and one of the few countries in the world that rates basketball ahead of football. Slovenia though has an unfortunate past in international basketball. They have never recorded a podium finish since gaining independence in 1992. The nation’s best finish was fourth at Eurobasket 2009, where they agonisingly lost out to Greece for bronze.
When the decision was announced that Eurobasket 2013 would be coming to Slovenia, the nation rejoiced. So proud that their nation would be hosting a tournament of this magnitude, they waited for September to come and indeed the nation expected their heroes to deliver on the court.
So far, they’ve got the results, but the performances have been lackadaisical. They have played six games thus far, losing to neighbours Croatia and Poland, en route to a healthy 4-2 record overall. The four wins though have come through the hosts coming through when it matters. Somehow, Slovenia finds a spark, a will to get the clutch buckets, and it has been, up until this point, enough for a win.
Why though leave it until the final two minutes? Why keep the Slovenian fans on edge?
“In the first round, we had five games and four of those games was very close, especially against Spain and then of course against Croatia,” said Slovenia’s Goran Dragic, when asked this question by TalkBasket at the post-game press conference.
“We didn’t have a lot there, they scored some easy shots and get a lot of rebounds but for our team we need the win and we going to battle. All five players, we going to defend, and that’s the key for all those games.
“You know some days the ball is going to go in, we going to shoot the ball well, but if we don’t shoot well, we still going to beat some teams if you play good defence and that’s the main reason we can win those games.”
And defence Slovenia certainly played in that final quarter. They by no means played what they are capable of, but they are getting the job done.
Question is: how long can these performances go on for? Will they have enough for a best-ever finish at Eurobasket and thus earn a spot at the FIBA World Cup next year?
Most Slovenian fans might not be able to answer that.