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Last call for the Qualifiers: Can Austria and Sweden hold off challenges from Great Britain and Belarus?
MUNICH (Germany) - There are four teams at the gates as we enter the final gameday of the Second Round in the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers, but room for only two of them in the Qualifiers proper.
It will all come down to two direct matchups in Groups A and D to determine who joins the already qualified likes of Belgium and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and who has to start over in the Pre-Qualifiers Third Round.
Having eliminated Denmark on Thursday, Sweden have put themselves in the driver's seat in Group A against their only remaining challengers Belarus. Meanwhile, Great Britain cruised past Cyprus to book a do-or-die battle with Austria in Group D.
Time: 15:00 CET, Sunday
First game: Sweden +28, 87-59
Follow this game because: There will be a ticket to the Qualifiers on the line in Minsk, even if the 28-point defeat in Sweden complicates things for Belarus. Having, quite symbolically, beaten FIBA EuroBasket 2017 champions Slovenia almost a year to this date, Belarus will be looking to go all-out to cover the gap.
- Sweden would advance with a win or a defeat of no more than 27 points;
- Belarus would advance with a win of 28 points or more;
- Denmark have been eliminated.
Key matchup: Carl Engstrom and Nicholas Spires will have their hands full with Artsiom Parakhouski in the five-man battle, with the Belarusian center in fine fettle of late for his club side Rytas Vilnius. He has averaged a steady diet of 13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game for the national team in the Pre-Qualifiers.
Fact of the game: Sweden have lost their last four games away from home in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers and FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers, scoring fewer than 75 points in all of them.
The 'insider' prediction: It would take a massive collapse by the in-form Sweden for a change of power to take place in Group A, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Belarus come away with a win here. That's the 'insider' verdict - Belarus to win, Sweden to advance.
Time: 20:30 CET, Sunday
First game: Romania +5, 88-83
Follow this game because: Sunshine or rain, triumph or defeat - Kosovo fans will show up in numbers to support their national team and create a magical atmosphere. This game doesn't have any implications in terms of the standings, but it should still make for good entertainment.
- MKD are guaranteed to finish first in Group C;
- Romania and Kosovo have already been eliminated.
Key matchup: If there are no surprises in terms of late scratches, we should be able to witness another great backcourt duel between Dardan Berisha and Giordan Watson. Although Berisha outscored Watson 24 to 19 in the first meeting between the nations, it was Romania who got the win.
Fact of the game: Kosovo's bench unit have been outscored in two of their three games in the Second Round of these EuroBasket Pre-Qualifiers, including against Romania in the reverse fixture (19-5).
The 'insider' prediction: Even playing away from home, Romania should probably be considered marginal favorites, having registered a 65-53 win over MKD on Thursday. However, the coaches of both teams may elect to give younger players a chance to play on the big stage, with Romania guaranteed to finish second and Kosovo locked into that third place.
Time: 15:15 CET, Sunday
First game: Belgium +13, 79-66
Follow this game because: Having locked in a berth in the Qualifiers during the November-December window, Belgian Lions and coach Dario Gjergja had the luxury of giving valuable senior national team opportunities to the likes of Tito Casero, Thomas Akyazili, Vrenz Bleijenbergh and Tim Lambrecht.
- Belgium are guaranteed to finish first in Group C;
- Iceland and Portugal have already been eliminated.
Key matchup: There will be a number of exciting matchups on the court, with Martin Hermannsson matching up with Jean Salumu on the perimeter, and Tryggvi Hlinason battling Khalid Boukichou inside to name a few.
Fact of the game: Belgium have conceded only 63.7 points per game, the fewest among all teams in the Second Round of the EuroBasket Pre-Qualifiers. They have not allowed their opponents to score more than 66 points in a single game in the competition.
The 'insider' prediction: It will be a game of evenly-matched teams and Iceland will have some momentum after their impressive 91-67 win over Portugal, but it's never wise to pick against the Belgian Lions in their own territory. Advantage Belgium.
Time: 17:00 CET, Sunday
First game: Austria +14, 82-96
Follow this game because: The situation in Group D is still up in the air, with Austria and Great Britain separated by just 14 points before the final showdown for the ticket to the Qualifiers. One could make an argument that this is the only real race in the Pre-Qualifiers.
- Austria would advance with a win or a defeat of no more than 13 points;
- Great Britain would advance with a win of 14 points or more;
- Cyprus have been eliminated.
Key matchup: Great Britain threw the kitchen sink at Sylven Landesberg in Manchester, but the newly minted Austria international still came away with a Pre-Qualifiers high of 47 points. A potent offensive player in his own right, Myles Hesson managed to limit his direct opponent to 7 points in the second half and will likely be Team GB's best bet against Landesberg come Sunday.
Fact of the game: Great Britain have won both games in which they have outscored their opponents in the paint and lost the only game in which their opponents scored more points in the paint in the Second Round of the EuroBasket Pre-Qualifiers.
The 'insider' prediction: The absences of Moritz Lanegger and Jozo Rados will be a big blow for Austria, who may have to rely heavily on their cushion from the first game to hold off Great Britain. The 'insider' verdict - Great Britain to win, Austria to advance by a whisker.