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Cate, Akpinar, Spires, Diaw, Hermannsson rise to the occasion
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - We are at the half-way point of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers.
For the fans that celebrated wins, and the neutrals, all of those heart-stopping moments from one close game after another were worth it. Here are the most memorable.
The Romania awakening
Did anyone see this coming in the World Cup Qualifiers? Romania, winless as Group Phase hosts at FIBA EuroBasket 2017, followed up their home triumph over the Netherlands with a 58-56 triumph at Croatia and one of their stars from last summer's side that hosted and won U20 European Championship Division B, Emanuel Cate, had 13 points, 14 rebounds and 5 - COUNT 'EM 5 - blocks! Romania rode their luck at the end when Croatia's Filip Kruslin's potential game-winning 3-ball rattled out.
Germany edge Serbia
Hyped as the game of the week, it delivered. Unheralded players like Ismet Akpinar, Joshiko Saibou and Andreas Seiferth showed up for Germany in a big way. Is something special happening in Germany, who won the battle of unbeatens to improve to 3-0?
Sweden in 'in-Spires' form against Turkey
Talk about drama, and a mouthwatering stat line, what about Sweden's 59-58 win over Turkey and the play of Nicholas Spires? He's taking his game to new heights with the national team. Spires had 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 swats in front of a 7,500-strong crowd in a sold-out Hovet Arena in Stockholm.
Russia's Sergey Karasev and France's Boris Diaw
It was a tale of two shots. France and Russia went to the wire and Karasev had an opportunity to win the game at the end but missed from just several feet away. Diaw, with France trailing by a point in overtime, caught an inbounds pass and scored the game-winner. "The game with France was ours," Karasev said. "Should have won." Oh, the pain!
Javier Beiran, Spain
Llevaba tiempo esperando este momento pero ha merecido la pena.— Javier Beirán (@jbeiran33) February 24, 2018
Orgullo absoluto de vestir esta camiseta 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/g4r9GLK3UB
You know how Spain have one of the best teams in the world, right? It's been virtually impossible for some terrific players to get a run with the national team for more than a decade because there are just too many superstars like the Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, etc. Well, Spain's roster is stocked with 12 deserving players finally getting a chance to represent their country in the World Cup Qualifiers and it's been a beautiful thing, even if they had to hold on for dear life at the end to win in Minsk against Belarus, 84-82. Beiran tweet's above? Translated into English, it says: "I had been waiting for this moment and it was worth it. Absolute pride in wearing this jersey."
Iceland dig in against Finland
What makes Icelandic sportsmen some of the toughest in the world? They just believe in themselves and as long as they give their best, the result doesn't matter. After trailing Finland by 10 points and still down by 8 early in the fourth quarter, Iceland fought back to win, 81-76. Jon Stefansson made a triumphant return after missing the November Qualifiers but you know the man that really made the difference? It was Martin Hermannsson. He talked the talk before the game and then walked the walk by pouring in 26 points, handing out 6 assists and coming up with 3 steals. And what about the amazing display once again by Iceland's other veteran, Hlynur Baeringsson? The 35-year-old center had 14 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. With Bulgaria also losing in the closing seconds at home to the Czech Republic (3-0), Group F now has three 1-2 teams (Bulgaria, Finland and Iceland).
Okay, this happened in Bamako, Mali, on Saturday and it wasn't in Europe yet it was so exciting I had to include it. The 3-pointer at the death from Mahamadou Kante gave Mali a 69-66 victory over Uganda, their first in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers.
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