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Thursday preview: Can Cyprus, Denmark, MKD and Portugal hold their own against tougher opponents?
MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers) – The FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers action returns for the Second Round with a dozen teams lining up for the continuation of the race to the Qualifiers proper.
The first checkpoint of the journey was reached in July, with the quartet of Cyprus, Denmark, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Portugal making it out of the First Round.
Joined by incoming teams from the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, all four of them will be in action on Thursday night to get the Second Round of the Pre-Qualifiers underway.
Time: 18:00 CET, Thursday
Follow this game because: Belarus registered just one win in the World Cup Qualifiers, but it was also the single biggest upset of the campaign throughout Europe, with the Aliaksandr Krutsikau-coached side shocking FIBA EuroBasket 2017 winners Slovenia in Minsk. A tough test in the Belarusian capital will be a good measuring stick for Denmark and their potential after they went undefeated in the First Round of the Pre-Qualifiers.
Key matchup: Gabriel Lundberg did all sorts of heavy lifting for Denmark against the likes of Armenia and Albania in the First Round, averaging 19.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game. However, things may not come as easy against Belarus, who might even delegate the toughest defensive assignment to the taller Vitaly Liutych.
Fact of the game: Belarus have won all four competitive matches they have played against Denmark, including a 97-72 victory in their last matchup in August 2015.
The 'insider' prediction: A number of different signs, including the home-court advantage and their historic head-to-head data, would seem to indicate that Denmark's unbeaten run in the Pre-Qualifiers might come to an end, but the addition of Shavon Shields levels the playing field somewhat for the Danes.
Time: 20:30 CET, Thursday
Follow this game because: There is recent history between these two, with Kosovo nipping MKD for a place in the World Cup Qualifiers in what can still only be described as a surprise. Revenge might be what is on Macedonian minds, but the Palace of Youth and Sports in Prishtina is a notoriously difficult place to play for opponents and it won't come easy.
Key matchup: The head-to-head battle between shooting guards Dardan Berisha and Vojdan Stojanovski will have you at the edge of your seat. Both players are known for their ability to put the ball in the hoop and proved it by combining for 70 points in their two previous head-to-head games, with Berisha outgunning Stojanovski 39-31.
Fact of the game: Kosovo and MKD faced each other twice in the Pre-Qualifiers for the World Cup, with each team winning on their home soil: 72-68 for Kosovo at home and 87-74 for MKD in Skopje.
The 'insider' prediction: One could argue that MKD have better prospects in Group B, but winning on the road in Kosovo will be a tough undertaking. This one can go both ways and a close game is to be expected.
Time: 20:30 CET, Thursday
Follow this game because: After an underwhelming showing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, Belgium are in need of a reboot and could use a win or two to take their minds away from the fact that they have only won twice in their last 10 competitive fixtures. Meanwhile, Portugal have an active three-game winning streak and would be perfectly fine with extending Belgium's struggles for just a little longer.
Key matchup: Belgium's second-leading scorer and top assist man Jonathan Tabu will be engaged in a guard duel against Portuguese scoring ace Tomas Barosso, who averaged 16.8 points on 48.6 percent shooting on his three-point attempts in the First Round of the Pre-Qualifiers.
Fact of the game: Belgium have made it to the last four consecutive FIBA EuroBasket tournaments, the most among all teams in the Second Round of these Pre-Qualifiers.
The 'insider' prediction: Fans in Pepinster can expect the Belgian Lions to roar again and get back to winning ways in spite of the recent success Portugal have enjoyed.
Time: 18:00 CET
Follow this game because: Austria failed to register a single win over the past three windows, but did not come away completely empty-handed from the Qualifiers for the World Cup, stocking up on valuable top-level experience in games against tier-one opponents in Germany, Serbia and Georgia. The test against Cyprus will give coach Michael Coffin and his side an opportunity to showcase what they have learned.
Key matchup: Even in the absence of Jakob Poltl, Austria will try muscle Cyprus inside with the duo of Rashid Mahalbasic and Jozo Rados. It will be up to Anthony King to limit their production, but Cyprus do lack some frontcourt depth.
Fact of the game: Austria have won six of the previous seven games against Cyprus, with the only defeat taking place in Lugano in May 1995 (57-76).
The 'insider' prediction: On paper, Austria should be able to take care of business against the visitors from Cyprus. However, the game will be played at the Multiversum in Schwechat, not on paper.