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France's Fournier respects USA but warns: ''Who can say 100 percent that it's impossible to beat them?"
ORLANDO (Florida) - France sharpshooter Evan Fournier believes his team can knock the all-conquering United States off the throne at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 this summer if the teams meet in a big game.
Speaking to L'Equipe, Fournier confirmed he wants to play in China and, when asked what the aim of France would be, he answered: "Win. Who dreams of being second? The USA have more talent, they're better, okay. But in one game, who can say 100 percent that it's impossible to beat them?"
The United States have not been infallible in their history. Yet, since their 101-95 defeat to Greece in the Semi-Finals of the 2006 FIBA Basketball World Cup, they have not lost in FIBA's flagship competition, or at the three Olympic Games that have followed.
"WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT OURSELVES, CREATE OUR OWN GROUP, ENTER OUR OWN BUBBLE. IF WE DO THIS, LIKE SLOVENIA DID AT FIBA EUROBASKET 2017, WE WILL BEAT EVERYONE."
France did put up a good fight against the USA in the Preliminary Round at the Rio 2016 Olympics, losing 100-97.
Their road to the knockout round at the first-ever 32-team World Cup looks set to be a bumpy one. In the First Round, the French will square off against Germany, the Dominican Republic and Jordan in Group G and must finish in the top two to advance to Group L in the Second Round. There, the opponents would be two sides that emerge from a Group H that has Australia, Canada, Lithuania and Senegal. The top two sides in Group L will advance to the Quarter-Finals where a meeting with the USA could await Vincent Collet's men.
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According to Fournier, there's no need to discuss whether or not France have a difficult draw.
"I don't think about it that way," he said. "We have to finish first, period. A World Cup is hard. We have to worry about ourselves, create our own group, enter our own bubble. If we do this, like Slovenia did at FIBA EuroBasket 2017, we will beat everyone."
Numerous French players seized an opportunity to represent for the first time the country's senior team in the European Qualifiers for the World Cup, so coach Collet has many more options for the makeup of his squad. Yet NBA-based players like Fournier, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert, and other established stars like Nando De Colo and Thomas Heurtel, who had 18 points in the narrow Olympic defeat to the USA, likely have the inside track to spots on the World Cup team.
France had a very talented team at EuroBasket two years ago but struggled without Gobert and Batum. Despite Fournier pouring in 27 points, the French lost 84-81 against Germany in the Round of 16.
"You take it on the chin and you move on," the 2.01m (6ft 7in) guard said. "It was a big letdown. It confirmed that you can have all the talent in the world but if you don't find any chemistry, it's not going to work. From scratch, we weren't together. With a full team, with Rudy (Gobert) and Nico (Batum), we will be better. The roles will be clearer. And I hope that we'll play defense ... there's no reason (not to)."
Fournier also expressed a lot of enthusiasm about Boris Diaw's involvement with the national team as the assistant general manager.
"He's going to revolutionize the job!" Fournier said. "It will help evolve the relationship between the players and the federation. At first I was wondering 'Why doesn't he take some holiday?' But it's great that it's him. We need someone who's been in our position and knows how we feel."
Diaw, who had a long and successful NBA career, had his first senior team appearance with France on January 23, 2002, in a game against Poland. He retired from the national team after the First Round of the European Qualifiers.