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Upcoming World Cup European Qualifiers that are too close to call
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Picking the upsets in international basketball is an onerous task. In the November World Cup Qualifiers, traditional heavyweights Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Greece, France and Serbia all won both of their games.
Also in Europe, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic had 2-0 starts.
There were upsets, though, like the Netherlands' 68-61 victory over Croatia in Rotterdam. The Czech Republic's 64-56 win at Finland raised eyebrows, as did Bosnia and Herzegovina's 81-76 home triumph over Russia, Estonia's 73-70 victory over a visiting Great Britain and Bulgaria's 77-74 come-from-behind triumph at Iceland. Remember that the Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Bulgaria all had to go through the Pre-Qualifiers.
Never mind the upsets. There are some games when it's just very difficult to pick a winner. It's anybody's guess which team will win these World Cup Qualifiers:
The 0-2 Brits better be breathing fire or they'll lose again
A pivotal game for two sides that want to finish as high as second in Group H, behind Greece. Since teams only carry wins against teams that progress to the Second Round, Israel's triumph over Estonia and the Brits' loss to the Baltic side won't matter if the Estonians fail to achieve a top-three finish (I'm guessing there are many that do not expect Estonia to advance). High-flying forward Ovie Soko needs to have a huge game for GB while Gal Mekel can't afford to have another 0-6 shooting night as he did in the 82-61 defeat at Greece. Last time these teams met in a big game was at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia, when Kieron Achara had 18 points and 13 rebounds and Britain won, 75-71.
Fridzon torched France for 20 points in Montpellier at EuroBasket 2015
No country fretted more than France about the World Cup Qualifiers because of absent players yet after a difficult first half at Belgium, Les Bleus never looked better. They pulled away for a 70-59 win and then returned home and blew out Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia rebounded from an opening night loss at Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 76-69 victory over Belgium that should have been more convincing. When these teams met a few years ago at the EuroBasket in Montpellier, Vitaly Fridzon erupted for 20 points and Semen Antonov had 13 for Russia. That experienced duo played in the November Qualifiers and need to play well for Sergei Bazarevich's team to have a chance.
Germany's Tibor Pleiss had 15 points in the EuroBasket 2015 clash with Serbia
This is a game that should really capture the imagination, and in fact, it has. The game is a near sellout after both of these sides went 2-0 in November. Each team, though, has lost important players in the past couple of weeks with Serbia's Milan Macvan and Germany's Johannes Thiemann going down with season-ending injuries. The Serbians, just as they showed by reaching the EuroBasket 2017 Final, have enormous depth and self-belief, but they'll be on the road against a Germany team coached by a very confident Henrik Rodl, albeit one that no longer has Thiemann. While there were a lot of different players involved, their EuroBasket 2015 showdown in Berlin went to the wire and Serbia prevailed, 68-66. Germany's fans want to some payback.
Hermannsson and Iceland need to bring their A game against the Susijengi
This is a game that is way too close to call. Remember several months ago at the EuroBasket in Helsinki, when the Susijengi won, 83-79? These teams like to get after each other. And this is a game that Iceland's Martin Hermannsson says his team has to win, along with the next one on February 25 against the Czech Republic. "We have two home games that are crucial," he said. "We have to win both, basically. We did show at the EuroBasket that we can compete against the Finnish, and they won't have Lauri Markkanen, who was hard for us to defend last summer. We've got a good chance against them."
The return of No. 20 Eriksson will be crucial for the Swedes
On the face of it, Turkey are big favorites after getting two wins in November. Sweden are 0-2, yet this game has been sold out since mid-January. Don't underestimate the impact a home crowd can have on a game, and also the return of a key man in Marcus Eriksson. He was a big absentee for Sweden in their losses to Ukraine and Latvia.
Germany better get a hand in the face of the Georgia shooters
Georgia really pushed Germany for 40 minutes the first time but lost, 79-70. Remember the 3-point threat provided by Georgia's Mikhail Berishvili? He was 5 of 9 from deep. Georgia will this time get a charge out its home crowd which is famous for being loud and intimidating. If Germany fall at home to Serbia, their confidence will be shaken. If they beat Serbia in Frankfurt and arrive in Tbilisi 3-0, their confidence will be soaring.
Talented 24-year-old Ingus Jakovics could be the one to step up for Latvia
The first meeting was enthralling, and the second one will be, too. Latvia got better in their second game, seeing off a very determined and resilient Sweden on November 26, 82-73. Now they will have back-to-back home games and will face Turkey in their second clash of February. In addition to Zanis Peiners, Anzejs Pasecniks and Janis Blums, someone else else must provide scoring for the Latvians. Rolands Smits is a primary candidate. Turkey will have just played a difficult road game in Stockholm. This is a mouthwatering clash.
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