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Vucinic's Tall Blacks break Susijengi hearts!
BILBAO (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Rarely have teams that lost the first three games of a competition as big as the FIBA Basketball World Cup made a turnaround to advance to the next round.
But with Nenad Vucinic and his Tall Blacks nothing can ever be a rarity.
The New Zealanders on Thursday moved very close to clinching a place in the Round of 16, and a ticket to Barcelona with their 67-65 win against Finland. Now, only a miraculous Ukrainian win over the mighty USA can stop the Kiwis from moving forward. New Zealand can even finish as high as third in Group C if the Dominican Republic beat Turkey in the final game of the day.
"We hope miracles don't happen every day," Vucinic joked during the post game press conference.
"We have done what we can. The other things are not in our hands now."
"We achieved what we set out for," said a relieved Vucinic, who is on the New Zealand bench for the fourth successive occasion at the FIBA's flagship event.
"I don't think we are lucky. We deserve this," he added talking of the close shave.
After the effort we have put on the last two days beating two great teams, I don't think anybody should call us lucky. - Vucinic
Vucinic was the assistant to Tab Baldwin at the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, where New Zealand achieved their highest-ever ranking by entering the Semi-Finals. Interestingly, Henrik Dettmann the current coach of Finland was the coach of Germany, who defeated New Zealand in the Third-Place Game that year.
Four years later, Vucinic was an assistant to Baldwin again at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan where the team finished in ninth place. Vucinic went on to take over as the head coach for the 2010 FIBA World Championship and led the Tall Blacks to the Round of 16 in Turkey.
"Our first target today was to win. We have done that," he said.
"The rest of the story is beyond our control," he added about the eventual placings in Group C or the possible match up in the Round of 16 against trans-Transman rivals Australia.
"We'll worry about that when we get there," he added.
As for Finland's exit, he offered: "It's a shame that one team has to go out.
"It was a fantastic experience for my team to play when such a huge crowd of fans is supporting the opposing team. It was as if we were playing in Finland. I think winning a game like this will toughen the team out even more, if we go into the next round."