Preview by Jeff Taylor
|Greece's Nick Calathes has evolved into a great defender under coach Obradovic at Panathinaikos, but can he stop one of the best point guards in the world, like Tony Parker?|
THIRD QUARTER-FINAL | THURSDAY AT 18:00 (1700 CET)
Greece's late comeback win against France in the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade is still fresh in the memory.
It remains one of the most talked about basketball games ever played on the continent.
The Greeks, coached by Panagiotis Yannakis and led by Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis, trailed 62-55 with just 47 seconds remaining after a dunk by France's Boris Diaw but they fought back to clinch a stunning 67-66 win.
Greece then beat Germany in the gold-medal game.
At EuroBasket 2011, the two sides will meet again in the knockout stage of the tournament only this time in the Quarter-Finals on Thursday.
Several players involved in the 2005 clash remain with the two national teams.
For France, there are Diaw, Tony Parker, Florent Pietrus and Mickael Gelabale, and for Greece there are Nikos Zisis, Antonis Fotsis and Ioannis Bourousis.
Zisis was important then, and at 28 he is even more important now.
Six years ago in Belgrade, it was Zisis who got fouled by Mickael Gelabale with 40 seconds left while attempting a shot from long range. The Greek guard went to the line and made all three free-throws to start the famous comeback.
Diamantidis would eventually bury a game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key with three seconds left.
International basketball hasn't been the same since, at least for the Greeks and French.
Greece followed up the gold-medal win with a 101-95 upset of the United States the next year at the World Championship in Japan.
They reached the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket 2007, Quarter-Finals of the Beijing Olympics and won bronze at EuroBasket 2009.
The French, who settled for the bronze in 2005, have yet to return to the podium at a major event.
France looked like one of the best teams at this summer's EuroBasket until Saturday, when they rested Parker and center Joakim Noah and crashed to a heavy defeat to Spain, a result that left the Spaniards first in Group E and dropped Les Bleus to second.
Knowing they would take on Greece in the last eight if they failed to beat Spain, that prospect did not seem to bother anyone in the French team.
"Their team has changed a little bit because of age just as we have matured," Diaw said.
"It's not going to be like 2005."
Forward Pietrus, whose role has become more important as the EuroBasket has gone on, said: "It's going to be a huge game. It is a rival that has a lot of history against France.
"They are a black cat for us but we already beat them two years ago (71-69 at EuroBasket 2009) and it's a different context now."
Without the retired from the national team Diamantidis, the injured Vasileios Spanoulis and big center Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who had to pull out of the team because of a serious personal matter, Greece lack players that have had pivotal roles in the past.
Yet with Zisis, Fotsis and Bourousis, and youngsters like Nick Calathes, Konstantinos Papanikolaou, Kostas Koufos and Michael Bramos, Ilias Zouros' team has grown into a confident bunch in Lithuania.
QUARTER-FINAL ANALYSIS BY CLAUDIO COLDEBELLA WITH ZISIS AND DIAW INTERVIEWS
Head-to-Head: Greece have won 10 of the 16 EuroBasket games they have played against France in their history. The French won the last encounter two years ago in Poland, 71-69 - a result that kept Les Bleus unbeaten in the tournament but also set up a Quarter-Final with Spain. The Spaniards hammered France and two victories later were European champions. Greece ended up taking on Turkey in their last eight game and won, and went on to beat Slovenia in the bronze-medal game.
Last Time Out: Greece defeated Georgia, 73-60, and France lost, 96-69, to Spain.
Key Match-Up: Greece's Nick Calathes v France's Tony Parker. Calathes must play a smart, strong game at the point on both ends of the floor against Parker, one of the star performers at the EuroBasket so far.
Key Stat: France have made an average of 4.4 three-pointers, which ranks last among the 24 teams at the EuroBasket, compared to Greece who are 16th with an average of six.
X-Factor: France's Mickael Gelabale has made 12 of his 20 attempts from behind the arc but a sprained ankle kept him out of the Group E win over Lithuania and defeat to Spain. If he is healthy, the French will have their best long-range shooter.
Sounding Off: "Normally I do not have to answer for another team. The surprise was that two players did not play (against Spain), Tony Parker and Noah. They didn't play. But okay, I can't talk for another team. I can talk only for my team. It's their decision. They show us they choose us to play but it's okay. We are ready," says Greece coach Ilias Zouros.