|30 August 2010|
German, Russian and Lithuanian basketball fans are completely absorbed in the FIBA World Championship right now with their teams among the headline makers so far.
Russia surprised Puerto Rico on opening day and the Germans upset Serbia in double overtime on Sunday while Lithuania have won both of their games, against New Zealand and Canada.
The win over against Canada on Sunday was sensational as the Lithuanians, now coached by Kestutis Kemzura, stormed back from a 17-point deficit to win 70-68.
What their passionate and devoted fans need to remember is that all three teams have something in common.
The three sides did not have to go through qualifying for EuroBasket 2011.
Lithuania, as hosts of next year's event, were given a free pass into the tournament but the wild cards for Germany and Russia meant they avoided having to go through the unpredictable and very demanding EuroBasket Division A.
|Marco Belinelli and Italy were once again left stunned after failling to book one of the 5 places in EuroBasket|
Italy, for the second straight time, failed to qualify directly to the Final Round while Poland, Latvia and Bulgaria - three teams that competed at last year's EuroBasket - also came up short.
The three teams do have hopes of winning the Additional Qualifying Round but with just one remaining place in Lithuania up for grabs, that will be anything but easy.
Montenegro, Great Britain and Belgium won their Division A groups to advance while Israel and F.Y.R. of Macedonia claimed the two spots on offer for the best second-place teams.
Georgia, unfortunately, missed out.
They finished second in Group C ahead of the Poles and Bulgarians but their coefficient wasn't as good as that of F.Y.R. of Macedonia and Israel.
Israel needed a win at Montenegro on Sunday to assure themselves of a place in next year's tournament but lost 79-69.
Still, the other results went their way so they did earn a trip to Lithuania.
And when considering they played in a Group A with Montenegro, Italy, Latvia and Finland - a ‘group of death' if ever there was one - the word earn is not being used lightly.
Guy Pnini, the Israel forward, played 20 minutes on Sunday and was elated after the team found out they had earned a trip to Lithuania despite their defeat which left them with five wins and three defeats in qualifying.
"We have reached the European Championship," he said.
"We accomplished the mission we set for ourselves and we did it right.
"Although we did not win the last game of the campaign in Montenegro, the bottom line is what matters and we are celebrating an amazing feeling.
"We proved we have a lot of character and maturity.
"We had a lot of pressure throughout the campaign, that we were expected to fulfill the important mission and we did it successfully.
"We are very pleased and happy that we could overcome all the things in order to celebrate the ticket to Lithuania."
|Sam Van Rossom was all smiles after Belgium clinched their first EuroBasket appearance since 1993|
Poland's basketball team must be in shock.
They had a 21-11 lead late in the first quarter at Belgium but simply did not finish the job and the 70-67 defeat even relegated them to fourth place in Group C.
Belgium, meanwhile, the team that reached the Final of the Additional Qualifying Round last year before falling to France over two legs, are elated.
"That we have qualified for the European Championship is the reward for five years hard work with this group," Belgium Head Coach Eddy Casteels said.
"I want to congratulate my players.
"The audience here in Antwerp - they shine."
For all of the teams that have booked their places in Lithuania, the words of Belgium's guard Sam Van Rossom probably summed up their feelings the best.
"This is a dream that has become a reality," he said.
"It's an indescribable feeling and I'm already looking forward to the EuroBasket in Lithuania."