25 August, 2023
10 September
Gianmarco Pozzecco (ITA)
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Qualified Team Focus - Italy: Azzurri believe in first top four finish since 1978

MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.

After Spain and Australia, France, Slovenia, Lithuania and Greece, next up is the number 10 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, 2004 Olympic silver medallists and two-time FIBA EuroBasket champions Italy.

How did they qualify

Italy fans certainly had plenty of drama during their team's qualification campaign. Despite that the Azzurri booked their ticket to the World Cup with one window to spare. The team played two overtime games, four of their Qualifiers were decided by four points or fewer and the team went through a coaching change to a former playing hero.

The Italians under Meo Sacchetti struggled right out of the gate, losing at Russia 92-78 and managing only a 75-73 win over Netherlands at home in the first window. Things didn't get much better in February 2022, losing to Iceland on the road in double-overtime 107-105 - though Nico Mannion collected 23 points and 7 assists.

Gianmarco Pozzecco (third from right) at 2004 Olympics

The federation had seen enough and in June 2022 hired Gianmarco Pozzecco as its new head coach. The 49-year-old had helped Italy win silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. And the Italians were back on track, winning by 11 points in Netherlands the following month as the only game since Russia had been expelled for its invasion of Ukraine.

Pozzecco welcomed the team's top stars back for the August 2022 window and beat Ukraine and Georgia to put themselves in a good spot for the World Cup - with Simone Fontecchio scoring 20 and 21 points, respectively. The Azzurri then went to FIBA EuroBasket 2022 and shocked Serbia to reach the Quarter-Finals, where they took France to overtime but came up just short of the Semi-Finals.

Nearly 10,000 fans flocked to Pesaro to watch the Italians take on freshly-crowned EuroBasket champions Spain in the November 2022 window. The game was thrilling - going to overtime - but Italy ended up losing 88-84. But Pozzecco's men finished the qualification deal three days later with another thriller, going back and forth throughout for an 85-84 win at Georgia to send Italy to the World Cup.

Best result at the World Cup

Italy will be making their 10th appearance at the World Cup and the first back-to-back showings since 1986 and 1990. Italy have claimed two silver medals at the Olympics (1980, 2004) and twice won the FIBA EuroBasket title (1983, 1999).

But the Azzurri have only finished in the top four of the World Cup twice - in 1970 and 1978, taking fourth place in the final group standings both times. And the country’s only top eight showing since then came in 1998 when they lost to United States in the Quarter-Finals.

Dino Meneghin at 1970 World Cup

Last World Cup appearances

After reaching the Quarter-Finals in 1998, Italy missed the 2002 World Cup and returned to the global stage in 2006, where they lost only to the United States in the group stage and then fell to Lithuania in the Round of 16. The Italians failed to reach the next two World Cups but reached China 2019. There they took second place in the first group stage only to lose to Spain and Puerto Rico in the second group to miss out on the Quarter-Finals.

Players to watch

The Italians have announced a 16-man squad for the event, with nine of the players from last year's team that fell 93-85 after overtime to France in the EuroBasket Quarter-Finals included.

Simone Fontecchio, Nicolo Melli, Achille Polonara, Alessandro Pajola, Nico Mannion, and Stefano Tonut were all linchpins for the Italians when they won the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade to reach the Tokyo Games.

Fontecchio, coming off his rookie season in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, underlined his status as one of the great shooters in Europe at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade in 2021.

He then led Italy to the Quarter-Finals of the Olympics, averaging 19.3 points per game.

Fontecchio was again Italy's leading scorer at last year's EuroBasket when pouring in an average of 19.4 points per game while making a blistering 45.1 percent (23 of 51) attempts from behind the arc.

Melli, in the national team since EuroBasket 2013 and a leading player in Europe, was second in scoring and rebounding, and third in assists, on last year's team.

Another member of Italy's Olympic team who became an important piece to the Italian puzzle last summer is Marco Spissu, the explosive guard who erupted for 22 points in the Round of 16 upset of Serbia.

Spissu, among the 16 men in the World Cup squad, drilled six of nine three-pointers against Serbia in the famous Italian victory.

He was poised to be the hero against France as well after connecting on four of five shots from deep and scoring 20 points but Italy missed key free throws down the stretch to allow France to force overtime and Les Bleus then prevailed.

Luigi Datome, the Italy captain who missed the Olympics because of the need to rest and recuperate from injury, and Giampaolo Ricci were also in last year's team and have been included.

Datome has been a member of the Italy team since EuroBasket 2007.