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20 November, 2017
26 February, 2019
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Montenegro with a ''once-in-a-lifetime'' chance, but familiar foes Latvia stand in their way

PODGORICA (Montenegro) - Zvezdan Mitrovic coached team is searching for its first ever World Cup appearance, with a 9-point advantage to defend at home. But, Latvia have already been trouble for them before.

In fact, at the FIBA EuroBasket 2017, Latvia became the first - and so far the only - team to score 100 points against Montenegro, since the country declared independence and started playing FIBA competitions in 2008.

Kristaps Porzingis had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 22 minutes of work, leading Latvia to a 100-68 win in the Round of 16. Porzingis will not be around on Monday, but Janis Timma, who had a team-high 21 back in 2017, is set to make an appearance, as Arnis Vecvagars announced the names of the players traveling to Podgorica.

"We had a practice (in Riga), it was not long, but it was intense and we managed to do everything that was intended," Vecvagars said before the biggest game of the European Qualifiers. "We tested specific variants that Montenegro run, and we'll have two more sessions in Podgorica, hiding the most important things from uninvited eyes."

Janis Strelnieks and Dairis Bertans are also in the squad, meaning that the Montenegrin backcourt will have their work cut out for them.

Still, Nemanja Vranjes has no fear.

"We are only one step away from the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and this is an opportunity that arrives only once in a lifetime. It's a do-or-die game for us," he said. "But I hope we will keep the home fans happy and celebrate our trip to the World Cup, which we really deserved."

The EuroBasket 2017 matchup was not the only time the two teams met. Montenegro also remember Latvia as their heartbreaker from Europe's biggest basketball competition four years earlier in Slovenia, where Kristaps Janicenoks knocked down the game-winning three-pointer from the corner in Group Stage.

Even though Vranjes and his teammates enter the game knowing they can afford a defeat of up to 8 points and still advance to the World Cup, they will be avoiding that kind of approach.

"We aren't thinking about that, not at all. Sure, a defeat of 8 points could do, but if we enter the game with thoughts like that, there's bound to be trouble," the 30-year-old guard warned. "We are going in for the win, from start to finish."

Montenegro won the first game between the two 84-75 in Riga, making this a simple equation:

  • Montenegro win on Monday, they advance to the boarding zone for their flight to China.
  • Latvia win by up to 8 points, Montenegro own the tiebreaker and still advance.
  • Latvia win by 9 or more, they are going to the World Cup.

The game in Podgorica tips off at 19:00 CET. After Russia v Finland and Serbia v Israel, it will be the third head-to-head battle for a ticket to China - and last one from the European part of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers.