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Group A Preview: Spain to seek glory at home
GRANADA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Spain will open the title race at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Saturday in Granada, aiming for a good Group A campaign that would boost their chances along the way.
The North Africans, who finished runners-up at AfroBasket 2013, will take on Serbia, in the group opener.
In the highly-anticipated game of the day France, the EuroBasket 2013 champions, will take on Brazil, with the host nation then ending the day's action squaring off against Iran, the winners of FIBA Asia Champions 2013.
Standing inside the top 11 of the FIBA bwin Ranking, France, Spain, Brazil and Serbia are the frontrunners to advance to the Final Phase, but Egypt and Iran will have something to say about that.
Spanish rising star Alex Abrines, who just finished his second season with Barcelona and helped the club defeat Real Madrid, 3-1, in the Spanish Liga Endesa Finals, is to make his debut at senior level.
He says that playing in this year's edition of FIBA's flagship tournament in "front of home fans is a big motivation for this generation of players who has won many titles outside Spain, now we have an opportunity to win it here."
"Playing France, Brazil and Serbia will be hard, but we will step on floor ready to give two hundred percent to win the group," said the 1.98m wingman who turns 21 on Monday when they face Brazil.
The unfinished business between France and Spain resumes when they face each other on Wednesday 3 September.
Four years ago, when the two teams last faced each other in the competition's history, Les Bleus upset the Spaniards on the opening day in Turkey. Then last summer, the Tony Parker-led France clinched the European crown, leaving Spain with the bronze medal.
Boris Diaw, who teams up with Brazil's Tiago Splitter in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs, says the celebrations of the NBA title won in June are part of the past, "on the court we are going to try beat each other."
Diaw insists that playing in such a competitive group has some positives.
"One has to see the bright side of it. When you start in the toughest group, then you cross with another group, which might not be as tough. So, it could be better in that way," he said.
Argentinean-born Ruben Magnano has selected all but one of the players who helped Brazil finish with a 3-3 record at the 2012 London Olympics.
With a team averaging 31 years of age, Leandro Barbosa - who made his World Cup debut in 2002 and is one of the few players to appear in the tournament for the fourth consecutive time - says this might be the last time this group plays together in the world stage.
"Each one of us has to do his best. We are focused to make a good World Cup campaign," said the team's leading scorer at Turkey 2010.
"I feel this group of players is prepared to fight for a place on the podium. It’ll be difficult, but we are ready."
The 31-year-old describes France, their opening day opponents, as "a tough opponent that will be difficult to defeat."
Although Brazil enjoys a 3-1 win record over France in FIBA World Championship history, Saturday's meeting between these two teams is unpredictable.
If there is a team the Brazilians know in this group, it is the Asian champions Iran, whom they beat 81-65 four years in Istanbul.
Egypt return to the world stage for the first time since 1994, and this will be the first time they face Serbia.
Despite arriving in Granada without Assem Marei, the team's talisman leader, the Pharaohs have pledged to compete until the last minute, just the way they did and surprisingly made it to the Final of AfroBasket 2013.
"We know it is going to be very difficult for us to coming up against these big names, but we are here in Spain to tell the world that we can play basketball," Egypt point guard Wael Kedr said, adding that "there is not better way to show Egypt's potential by playing against performers in the world."
One of Europe's most promising shooting guards, Serbia's Bogdan Bogdanovic, who plays for Fenerbahce, says "for now, the most important thing is that our team remains healthy, and I am sure fans will enjoy the quality of basketball here in Granada."
For Slovenian-born Mehmed Becirovic, who has been at the helm of Iran for the past two and half years, his team may lack club international experience, but they are competitive.
"We'll compete. We have good players," he said.