By Jeff Taylor
|Spain Head Coach Sergio Scariolo says F.Y.R. of Macedonia are a compact, solid team that defends very well. Do not expect EuroBasket title holders Spain to underestimate them at any moment|
Semi-Final | Friday at 17:30 (16:30 CET)
Spain have an unexpected hurdle to clear if they are to keep their title defense alive at the EuroBasket in Kaunas.
In Wednesday night's Quarter-Final action at the Kauno Arena, F.Y.R. of Macedonia shocked Lithuania and will now take on the Spanish, who blew out Slovenia.
If Marin Dokuzovski's team hadn't garnered the respect of every team in Europe before the game against the Lithuanians, they certainly have now.
Spain coach Sergio Scariolo was certainly impressed by the overall play of the team that finished second in Group F to Russia.
"They are the surprise team of the tournament," Scariolo said.
"They are compact, solid and serious.
"They defend very well and have kept their opponents' scoring to the lowest (in the tournament).
"We will try to change that tomorrow against them."
In fact Russia, who pipped F.Y.R. of Macedonia to first place in Group F with a buzzer-beating, turnaround jumper from behind the arc by Sergey Monya on Monday night in Vilnius, have the stingiest defense in the competition.
They allow an average of 63.6 points per contest but F.Y.R of Macedonia, who have played one game more than the Russians, are second at 65.2.
It took a while for Spain to get going against Slovenia but in the second quarter, they went to a two-three zone and also started to find their rhythm on offense.
In the third quarter, though, Spain lost Jose Calderon when he hurt his ankle and the Toronto Raptors point guard played no further part in the game.
There were initial fears he may have suffered a serious injury but Calderon was smiling by the end of the clash.
"Jose is better and his condition is improving," Scariolo said on Thursday.
"It seems as though he will play tomorrow."
Without question, Spain have one of the most talented teams to ever play at a EuroBasket.
They boast not only the Gasol brothers in the low post, Marc and Pau, but also have the luxury of bringing Serge Ibaka and Felipe Reyes off the bench.
There is also the explosive shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who had 17 of his game-high 26 points on Thursday in the third quarter when Scariolo's team blew the game wide open.
"Regardless of the talent, we are achieving a high level on defense while on offense, we are playing like a team, passing the ball well," Scariolo said.
"We have to take another step forward in what will be a crucial game for us to achieve the aim that we set out at the beginning."
That aim was to get to the Final, which would earn the team a trip to the London Games.
"We want to qualify for the Olympics and why not win the tournament as we did two years ago," Scariolo said.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia will not have big man Todor Gechevski because of injury but they have plenty of talent, heart and leaders.
Pero Antic is the captain while Vlado Ilievski, Bo McCalebb, Vojdan Stojanovski and Predrag Samardziski are proving to be exceptionally strong mentally.
By winning their game against Lithuania, they are guaranteed their presence at EuroBasket 2011 and moved to within one victory of a medal this weekend.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia, like Spain, are also guaranteed a spot in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
They can dream of playing at the Olympics, too, because should they win on Saturday, a place in London will be theirs.
PAU GASOL AND BO McCALEBB PREVIEW THE SEMI-FINAL
Head-to-Head: Spain and F.Y.R. of Macedonia have never played each other.
Last Time Out: Spain destroyed Slovenia 86-64 and F.Y.R. of Macedonia edged Lithuania 67-65.
Key Match-Up: Rudy Fernandez vs. Vojdan Stojanovski.
Key Stat: Spain average a tournament-leading 83 points per game while F.Y.R. of Macedonia rank 18th at 69.2pts per contest.
X-Factor: F.Y.R. of Macedonia point guard Vlado Ilievski. He will have to control the tempo as he did to near perfection in Monday's narrow defeat to Russia and Wednesday's upset of Lithuania.
Sounding Off: "In terms of team unity and spirit, we are the best team in the tournament. People back home will be celebrating on the squares and on the streets. This is for them," says F.Y.R. of Macedonia's Pero Antic.