20 November, 2017
26 February, 2019
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Croatia's stars hoping to cool off Italy in the warmth of Trieste

TRIESTE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - It may seem unbelievable, but a 4-0 team is not willing to take on the role of the favorites ahead of a home game against a 1-3 team.

But the Italians know what they're doing. This Croatian team, that is headed to Trieste, looks nothing like the one that lost 80-64 in Zagreb earlier in these Qualifiers.

"Croatia is strong. But playing in this Azzurro shirt - that's a great stimulus for us," Italy's point guard Ariel Filloy said. "We want to continue doing what we have done so far. Playing together, having fun. The results were good in the first four games, and we hope to continue like this."

Filloy and the rest of Meo Sacchetti's squad were not only "good" in the first four games. They were perfect, with a 4-0 record delivering a booking confirmation to the Second Round to their address. The toughest task is up next as Bojan Bogdanovic and Dario Saric are back in a red-and-white jersey, and Ivica Zubac is set for his debut for the national team.

"Croatia is a very talented and experienced team but we will do our best, as usual. And then there is Trieste: a place where support has never failed us. I expect a full house, and the usual warmth of the people of Trieste. They love us here, we hope we can repay them with a good game," Daniel Hackett explained the mutual feeling of love on the northeast of Italy.

Being in that part of the country is a plus for their opponents. Croatia's camp is located in Opatija, meaning they will spend less than two hours in the bus going to an away game.

Bogdanovic knows how to silence the Italian crowd, having done so in the Final of the 2016 OQT in Turin

"We didn't want to run all our offensive sets in the friendly game against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, we're keeping them for the more important games that are just ahead of us. We will work hard to lift our entire game up a level, to bring it where it needs to be in Italy," newly-appointed Croatian head coach Drazen Anzulovic said following last Friday's win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Everybody knows all eyes will be on Bogdanovic, who already burned Italy two summers ago, in the Final of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with 26 points, and Saric, who won the MVP award of that same event after finishing with an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double.

But Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac is the new kid on the block. He was unstoppable in his first friendly game for Croatia, with 28 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes of action against BiH. If the 21-year-old could come anywhere near to those numbers in Trieste on Thursday, Italy will have their hands full.


Key matchup: Amedeo Della Valle has been one of the most impressive players worldwide in these Qualifiers, and Croats will know all about his scoring abilities since he put up 25 points the first time they met in November. But Bojan Bogdanovic will be on the other side this time around. One of the best scorers Europe has seen in recent years will play his first official game as the team captain of Croatia, achieving one of his childhood dreams.

Key stats: Bench points will make all the difference here. Everybody knows that Croatia's NBA players are all able to score in a hurry, but they will need more out of second unit, which averaged just 15.8 points per game in the Qualifiers. Italy will look to take advantage, as they usually switch through gears once the bench players are called up, averaging a massive 38.5 bench points per outing.

They said: "Ivica Zubac will be a huge part of this team in the years to come. He's one of the rare centers with an excellent back-to-the-basket technique." – Bojan Bogdanovic on his newest teammate.

"(Marco) Belinelli told me I'm crazy because I keep returning to the national team. But I told him that's the way it goes in Croatia. We just have to play for our national team." - Dario Saric not letting the long NBA season affect his motivation when it comes to playing for Croatia.

"I'm happy everything finally worked out and I can play for Croatia. I know there a lot of expectations on my back, but I will do whatever it takes for us to win these two games." - Ivica Zubac, Croatia's newest NBA member.

"The team comedians are making fun of me because my Argentina lost to Croatia (at the 2018 FIFA World Cup). I hope we will do better against them in a couple of days." - Argentinian-born Italian point guard Ariel Filloy.