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Serbia thrilled to give fans huge home win over Greece, look forward to February window
BELGRADE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Serbia calmed some nerves with a critical win over Greece to conclude the fifth window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers but know there will be plenty of pressure on them come February when they play their last two games in order to qualify for China.
Serbia headed into Monday's game walking on eggshells after a 83-74 loss to Israel last Friday. But Group L's last results of this past window turned out to be just right for Serbian supporters. Not only did their team end a run of three losses in four games with an 84-61 victory at home over Greece but meanwhile Georgia scored a 71-69 overtime win at home over Israel. It means the Serbs need one victory in their final two games to reach the World Cup .
"We watched the game between Georgia and Israel. But you know we aren't paying that much attention to other games," admitted Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica as the Georgia-Israel game ended before Serbia's encounter with Greece started.
"We all knew what happened there, thanks to Georgia. But, we had our challenge, we needed to win," added Stefan Jovic.
"When I get back to Malaga, I will take Shermadini to lunch," joked Serbian guard Dragan Milosavljevic about his Unicaja Malaga teammate Giorgi Shermandini, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Georgia's win over Israel.
Milosavljevic was happy to see a better display by Serbia just days after their loss to Israel.
"It was hard to lose against Israel. That loss was really painful," said Milosavljevic. "(Against Greece) We played a little bit better. In some moments we looked good, in some not that good. And that is normal. It’s hard to make a team in three days, get the chemistry and good game. But, we won very important game."
Raduljica was a bit more lighthearted following the win over Greece when looking back on the loss to Israel.
"We want to win every game, and I hope we will do that. Sometimes it doesn't happen and there is a little pressure," he offered. When asked a follow-up question of "Like after Israel?", he answered: "That’s why we play. It would be boring without pressure. See you in February!"
The Serbian players thanked the crowd at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in Belgrade for being a major boost against Greece.
"The crowd was amazing, of course. It was beautiful playing here. The good thing about these windows is that the fans can see us, but also for us to play in front of them, which we like very much and is always beautiful," Raduljica said.
"In every game during these windows, it was great," Milosavljevic said of the crowds. "We all enjoy playing in that kind of atmosphere. We all enjoy playing for the national team. We have a good chemistry, the guys are great. That is why we had all those results for so many years."
"THE CROWD WAS AMAZING, OF COURSE. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL PLAYING HERE. THE GOOD THING ABOUT THESE WINDOWS IS THAT THE FANS CAN SEE US, BUT ALSO FOR US TO PLAY IN FRONT OF THEM, WHICH WE LIKE VERY MUCH AND IT ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL."
Serbia, runners-up at the last World Cup in 2014, have two more games in which to book their ticket to China 2019, which would be their fourth straight appearance in the global spectacle.
In the sixth and final window of the Qualifiers, Aleksandar Djordjevic's men will play at already-eliminated Estonia on February 21 and then host Israel on February 24. They have the upper hand for third place in the group with a 6-4 record, with Georgia (5-5) and Israel (4-6) behind them. Georgia, meanwhile, play away at Greece and then welcome Estonia, while Israel host Germany before finishing their campaign at Serbia.
The Serbs know winning their first game in February at Estonia would lock up their ticket to China 2019.
"WE NEED A WIN IN ESTONIA SO WE DON'T THINK ABOUT THE GAME AGAINST ISRAEL WITH PRESSURE, BUT ONLY TO SAY GOODBYE TO OUR FANS BEFORE WE GO TO CHINA."
"Estonia will not be playing for the World Cup, but they will play at home. Our focus is on that game, of course," said Jovic.
Serbian center Stefan Bircevic, for his part, said: "We need a win in Estonia so we don't think about the game against Israel with pressure, but only to say goodbye to our fans before we go to China."