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Drama aplenty in the Quarter-Finals with history, Euro showdown and a shot at redemption
HERAKLION (Greece) - Definite history, an all-European classic and two revenge storylines - the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 promise plenty of drama for the crowd in Heraklion and fans around the world.
The Quarter-Finals matchups are Mali v Puerto, Lithuania v Serbia, United States v Russia and Canada v France. There are four European teams in the final eight, the fewest since 2013, when there were four in a system that had two group stages and then the Quarter-Finals.
There will be at least one European team in the Semi-Finals with Lithuania facing Serbia, but it will be up to Russia or France to continue a long tradition at the U19 World Cup. The first edition of the competition way back in 1979 was the last time there weren't at least two European teams in the top four. Five times since then there were three European sides in the Semi-Finals.
There are four countries remaining who have won this competition in the past: six-time winners United States, reigning champs Canada, 2007 winners Serbia and 2011 champs Lithuania. Of the other four teams, Russia and France both have one podium finish (third in 2011 and 2007, respectively) while Mali and Puerto Rico have never reached the Semi-Finals.
Mali v Puerto Rico
History will be made when the final buzzer of this game goes off as the winner will reach the Semi-Finals of this competition for the first time. Mali have already accomplished the best-ever showing for an African team by reaching this point, while Puerto Rico have finished sixth in 2003 and 2009. These two countries have already met once in this competition with Mali beating Puerto Rico in the game for 15th place in 2007.
Mali won their first two games in this competition against Latvia and Canada and then lost to Australia on a late three-pointer before beating New Zealand to reach the Quarter-Finals. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico only won once thus far, with their lone win coming in their incredible Round of 16 upset over Argentina after losing all three games in the Group Phase.
Five of Mali's players were on the team that finished 12th at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018, where the Africans lost to Dominican Republic in triple-overtime and fell to Argentina by one point. So those Mali players will be aware of how to play against a FIBA Americas side. Oumar Ballo also knows the Puerto Rican team a bit as he attended the NBA Academy Latin America with Jermaine Miranda while Ballo and Puerto Rico's Julian Strawther will both be attending Gonzaga University in the United States. Plus, Ballo, Miranda, Strawther and Victor Rosa all appeared at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp 2019.
Lithuania v Serbia
The all-European battle is actually a repeat of the 2011 U19 World Cup Final, won by Lithuania. The Baltic side actually beat Serbia twice in that tournament, winning also in the second group stage. While Lithuania finished third in 2013 and sixth in 2017, Serbia are in the top eight for the first time since 2013, when they notched their second of back-to-back runner-up finishes.
Serbia have not lost yet in Heraklion, beating China by 49 points, Puerto Rico by 1 point and France by 9 points in the Group Phase before getting by Philippines by 27 in the Round of 16. Lithuania beat Senegal before losing to the United States and New Zealand. The Baltic side then bounced back and beat Australia in the Knockout Phase.
These two teams actually know each other well as they faced off at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018. Although Serbia went on to win the title in Latvia, they suffered their only loss in the tournament against Lithuania in the first game of the tournament.
United States v Russia
United States and Russia have Quarter-Finals history in this competition and it didn't go well for the Americans as Russia knocked off USA 79-74 en route to their third placed showing. That was the Americans' last loss in this event until Canada beat them in the Semi-Finals in 2017. That streak also included a 115-47 victory over Russia in the Group Phase in 2015 - also in Heraklion.
The United States have registered victories by 40 points, 18, 29 and 50 in this competition so Russia will have a major test, though the Russians' only loss came in overtime to Argentina before beating hosts Greece by 8 points, Philippines by 28 and China by 13 points.
Canada v France
This is another matchup with a Quarter-Finals history as they squared off in Cairo 2017 with Canada winning 73-67 as they raced to the title. Eventual MVP RJ Barrett went off for 27 points for the Canadians and while no player from either team is back for the tournament in Heraklion, the French will have revenge on their minds for their compatriots from two years ago. Canada and France also played at the 2009 U19 World Cup with Canada winning to take seventh place.
Canada have dropped just one game thus far, by a single point to Mali on Day 2. They picked up a five-point win over New Zealand, a two-point victory against Latvia and an 11-point triumph over Senegal, so they know what it's like to play tight games. France meanwhile were not challenged in a 23-point win over Puerto Rico and a 63-point drubbing of China before losing to Serbia by nine points. But France bounced back for a convincing 31-point win over hosts Greece to reach the Quarter-Finals.