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Italy look to hold off Hungary and clinch World Cup spot
VARESE (Italy) - Italy and Hungary square off on Friday in what could be viewed as a must-win game for both sides in the European Qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.
The Hungarians (5-5) certainly have no margin for error in this window. Two wins are needed to reach the World Cup and even that may not be enough with Poland (6-4) third in Group J and owning a head-to-head tie-break against them. The Italians (7-3) are two games clear and in second place behind leaders Lithuania (9-1), the only team to have sealed a spot in this summer's 32-team event.
If Italy and Poland each win a game in this window, then Hungary's World Cup hopes die. If Croatia were to prevail against Poland in their game on Friday - a contest that tips off more than two hours before things get underway in Varese - then the possibilities begin to look far more promising for Hungary.
The Italians need only one win from their final two games in order to qualify. However, they would not want to head to Klaipeda for their clash with Lithuania on Monday needing a victory to seal a World up place, with Hungary hosting Croatia and the Netherlands visiting Poland in the day's other games. The idea that the Poles could fall twice in this window, even at home against a Dutch team that they blew out 105-78 on November 29, cannot be discounted.
If the first encounter between Hungary and Italy is any thing to go by, the fans in Varese are going to watch a barn burner. Meo Sacchetti's team escaped Hungary with a 69-63 victory on September 17.
The Italians, bolstered by the presence of Gigi Datome and Nicolo Melli, who combined for 29 points, trailed 51-49 entering the last quarter when Brian Sacchetti put them in front with a 3-ball and they stayed ahead for the rest of the game.
They went in front by nine, although Hungary did claw the deficit back to 66-63 in the last minute. Italy wobbled, missing 3 of 6 free-throws, but held on.
Veteran Alessandro Gentile, who has only featured in four of Italy's 10 games to date - two of them in the First Round - is in the squad.
Meanwhile, one of Italy's top players in the European Qualifiers, Amedeo Della Valle, hadn't been expected to be with Italy until after his game with Olimpia Milano on February 21 yet the federation has announced he's already joined the team.
Della Valle has made 25 of his 53 (47.2 percent) attempts from 3-point range and is averaging a team-high 18.1 points per game.
However, he had arguably his worst game, at Hungary, hitting just 2 of 10 shots from the floor, including 1 of 5 from deep.
A Hungarian that Italy will play close attention to is David Vojvoda, who had 25 points in the first meeting. The 28-year-old marksman is averaging 16.6 points per game.