|19 August 2011|
|FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin addresses the 17,000 fans in the Kaunas Arena during the inaugural ceremony |
If the inaugural game in the newly constructed 'Kauno Arena' (Kaunas Arena) is anything to go by, Lithuania are going to be tough to beat in front of their fans at the EuroBasket.
The EuroBasket 2011 hosts chose holders Spain as their opponents in the first ever game to be played in the state-of-the-art arena that will be the scene of the EuroBasket Final Round.
In a bright one-hour long ceremony that preceded the friendly game and included performances by more than 100 hip hop and modern dance performers and Arvydas Sabonis basketball academy pupils as well as a live performance by the Kaunas State Choir and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, a delighted FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin said: "This will be the best EuroBasket ever, because this is the country of basketball."
"You will make this EuroBasket special," he added, addressing the 17,000-strong crowd that had inundated the sparkling new arena.
During the ceremony the Arena was consecrated by the archbishop of Kaunas, Sigitas Tamkevičius.
"I want to thank the organisers for this fantastic and beautiful venue which is the perfect place for an event like this," Mr Zanolin concluded.
"It's an impressive stadium," Spain point guard Jose Calderon agreed.
"The fans put considerable pressure on the opposing team and it will no doubt be a luxurious setting for the EuroBasket."
Sergio Scariolo, the Spain coach, saluted the hosts of the EuroBasket for having built a stadium as nice as the one in Kaunas and also praised their organization.
"They have everything under control 13 days before the start of the EuroBasket," Scariolo said.
Once the actual game was underway though, the Lithuanians forgot their manners and defeated their guests, 88-76.
Mantas Kalnietis scored 16 points and Simas Jasaitis 13 for the Lithuanians, who were roared on by the 17,000 spectators.
Jonas Valanciunas also chipped in 11 points for the Lithuanians, who won despite Spain getting 18 from Pau Gasol and 17 from his younger brother, Marc.
Victory came at a cost, however, as center Robertas Javtokas dislocated his elbows and Songaila injured his hand.
|The Atmosphere in the completely sold-out Kaunas Arena was fantastic during the opening ceremony of the state-of-the-art venue|
Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura believes both players will be okay.
"Robertas dislocated both elbows, but I don't want to comment on anything," said Kemzura, who did say he had confidence in the team's medical staff.
Lithuania won despite being outrebounded, 45-36.
"The problem remains the same - the fight for the ball," Kemzura said.
"But the Spanish front line is very powerful. I'm very happy with our 20 assists, and finally we scored some three-pointers (seven of 17).
"But I would like us to be even more aggressive.
"Life goes on. We're waiting for the games with the Russians and Latvians."
Spain's players were happy to have played in such a great atmosphere.
"Spain and Lithuania have played a great game tonight and it was a very important test for us because it gives us an idea of what we will find when we start the EuroBasket," Spain point guard Jose Calderon said.
"Lithuania have a deep team and tonight have put on a good game."
The next time the two teams meet again, on 4th September in Panevezys, a lot more will be at stake.