F.Y.R. of Macedonia vs. Lithuania Preview



Preview by Paul Nilsen

11. Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania)
FYR of Macedonia are facing problems with their frontline, while Lithuania have the luxury of choice inside, with the exceptional 19-year-old Jonas Valanciunas amongst the options


The message to expectant hosts Lithuania is simple. Beware of the underdogs.

Along with Finland, the only other team at the tournament to have truly surpassed all expectations and defy the non-believers is F.Y.R. of Macedonia.

Not surprisingly, Lithuania are favourites to win this game. They're on home soil and will face an opponent ravaged in unchartered waters, having never previously reached this stage of a major tournament.

F.Y.R. of Macedonia will also probably be without the extensive experience of Todor Gechevski while both Predrag Samradziski (knee) and Bo McCalebb (back) have been struggling to shake off injuries.

Nevertheless, with Lithuania within touching distance of the Semi-Finals, perhaps the podium and, at the very least, a coveted spot for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the worse thing the hosts can do is to take this game for granted.

For F.Y.R. of Macedonia have an incredible capacity to keep games tight as they once again showed against Russia on Monday night and will fight for every ball.

In McCalebb, they possess one of the most difficult players to stop in the tournament alongside the ice cool Vlado Ilievski who was locked down in the last game but is now due a big performance.

Lithuania need to be mentally prepared for the fight ahead which I am sure will be the case.

They have a fantastic opportunity lying in wait but the underdogs will always be capable of springing yet another surprise.

It's a dangerous game for Lithuania in every way. This is the type of game when the experience and leadership of their veteran returnees could be more important than at any other time during the tournament so far.

It will be interesting to see if Lithuania can take the initiative and control the tempo of the game because, so far at least, F.Y.R. of Macedonia have done a good job at generally dictating this crucial issue.

F.Y.R. of Macedonia don't have the firepower to get involved in a shoot-out and so I suspect the uglier it is, the better for them. The tighter the game and lower scoring it is, the more vulnerable Lithuania will be.

Head-to-Head: The teams have never met each other previously at the EuroBasket.

Last Time Out: Lithuania came out on top, 84-75, in a memorable game against Germany while F.Y.R. of Macedonia lost 63-61 to Russia.

Key Match-Up: Both teams will be looking at different match-up problems for different reasons and consequently there are probably two key areas. F.Y.R. of Macedonia without Gechevski and a hampered Samardziski are light inside and with young Jonas Valanciunas getting better with every game, his energetic approach could pose a problem. Equally, Lithuania has to come up with a strategy to stop the penetration and limit the impact of the electric McCalebb - something few others have managed to do so far.

Key Stat: Lithuania score more points than any other team in the tournament with 85 per game and F.Y.R. of Macedonia only average 69.5 - quite a difference.

X-Factor: F.Y.R. of Macedonia have lost only twice during the tournament. Both times they have been without Todor Gechevski. This is likely to be a significant factor as they attempt to do something they haven't done so far - win without him. That means stepping up their rebounding in a big way.

Sounding Off: "Against Russia, we again showed that we are a team that deserves to be in the quarter-finals," says F.Y.R. of Macedonia coach Marin Dokuzovski.


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