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Italy shock Serbia in Belgrade to book their ticket to Tokyo
BELGRADE (Serbia) - Italy's national team will play this summer at the Tokyo 2020 Men's Basketball Olympic Tournament with their 102-95 victory over Serbia in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Finals.
Fueled by their fantastic three-point shooting display as the Italians earned their first Olympics appearance since the 2004 Athens Games, where they won the silver medal.
Italian made it rain from beyond the arc seemingly all night in Belgrade as they made 14 three-pointers. Many of their attempts fell at the very crucial moments of the game, an instrumental reason why the Italians will be making their country's 13th Olympics appearance in history.
Turning point: The Italians relied on two of them, actually. The first was at the start of the game where they were able to stretch Serbia's defense, which paid off as the Italian's triple-point shots were falling. It was crowned with 25-9 to finish the first half after trailing by four (36-32 to 45-57). The second came with another precise shooting run in the second half that stopped Serbia from mounting an early comeback.
Game heroes: The boys in blue played outstanding team basketball in the Final. The 'Azzurri' also benefited from a career game from Achile Polonara. His two-way, double-double performance of 22 points and 12 rebounds earned him a total efficiency score of 32. Polonara was justly awarded the TISSOT MVP Award following his team receiving their cardboard cutout ticket to Tokyo.
Stats don't lie: Meo Sacchetti's squad outrebounded the home team by small (39-36), but took 12 of them in the offensive end. And while most of the statistics were on Serbia's side in the end, the key was the fantastic shooting performance by the "Azzuri" team - 48 percent for 2 points FG, 41 percent for 3 point.
Bottom line: All four of pre-event favourites that hosted FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Belgrade, Split, Kaunas, and Victoria failed to exceed the advantage of playing in front of the home fans.
"I feel great. We beat a great team, in Belgrade, in front of their fans," Polonara said after the game. "It was a challenging game for us, but we did an incredible job. I really don't care about the MVP award, I care only about going to Tokyo." Achile Polonara, Italy.
"This is not a failure, this is a disaster. We wanted to make the people happy. I have to apologize for this. With this approach and this game, we do not deserve to go to the Olympic Games." Nemanja Bjelica, Serbia.