The Best of 2006 World Cup: Spain capture first crown in thrilling World Cup
MIES (Switzerland) - Spain captured their first world title as they took the crown at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006 - one of the greatest tournaments in terms of high level teams going deep in the competition. The event was highlighted by Greece shocking United States in the Semi-Finals and taking second place with USA bouncing back to claim third place by beating Argentina.
All four teams went into the Semi-Finals in Japan with undefeated records and Spain ended up as the first world champion without a loss since USA in 1994. Europe showed their dominance in world basketball at the time as six of the eight teams in the Quarter-Finals were European.
In addition to Greece upsetting USA, the 2006 World Cup remains memorable for MVP Pau Gasol missing the Final due to a broken foot but Spain still dominating for the win.
The best team: Spain
|9.||Serbia & Montenegro||2-4|
The World Cup returned to Asia for the first time since 1978 when Philippines hosted it as FIBA awarded Japan the right to welcome the world for the 15th edition of the flagship event. And more of the world came to Japan with the field being expanded from 16 to 24 teams - just like it was 20 years earlier at Spain 1986. Group stage games were hosted in Hamamatsu, Hiroshima, Sapporo and Sendai and the knockout games were played in the Saitama Super Arena.
The event set a new spectator record for FIBA World Cups as over 75 percent of available tickets were sold. There were 225,000 spectators in Japan, and the games were broadcast to more than 150 countries with television ratings setting records in many countries. For the first time, television coverage included all African countries, while fans were also able to watch games on FIBA's website through broadband streaming.
After five World Cups with 16 teams, there were 24 nations at Japan 2006: hosts Japan; Olympics 2004 winners - Argentina; the top six qualified teams from Europe - Greece, Germany, Spain, Lithuania, Slovenia; the top four sides from Americas - Brazil, Venezuela, USA, Panama (ranked fifth at FIBA AmeriCup 2005 but given a berth because runners-up Argentina qualified as Olympic champion); the top three nations from Asia - China, Lebanon, Qatar; Africa's top three qualified teams - Angola, Senegal, Nigeria; Oceania's top two qualifiers - Australia, New Zealand; as well as four other teams - Serbia & Montenegro, Italy, Turkey, Puerto Rico.
The 24 teams were broken down into four groups of six with round robin playing format. The top four finishers from each group advanced to the knockout stage, starting with the Round of 16.
Argentina, Spain, Greece and USA all went undefeated 5-0 in their respective groups. Among the group action highlights were Nigeria beating Serbia & Montenegro on the first day of action in Group A; while Angola and Germany battled in a triple-overtime thriller in Group B with Germany winning 108-103 thanks to 47 points from Dirk Nowitzki, the most points since the 1990 World Cup, where Jae Hur of Korea scored 54 points, Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt had 52 and Jordi Villacampa of Spain poured in 48 points.
In Group C, Greece beat Australia 72-69 thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer by Nikos Zisis. The Greeks also needed overtime to beat Lithuania 81-76 and had to come back to beat Turkey 76-69. Group D ended with Slovenia, China and Puerto Rico tied at 2-3 and the first two advanced along with USA and Italy. France, Nigeria and Serbia & Montenegro went through from Group A while Germany, Angola and New Zealand went through behind Spain in Group B; and Turkey, Lithuania and Australia followed Greece from Group C.
There was little drama in the Round of 16 with seven of the eight higher seeded teams going through - with Lithuania downing Italy as the third placed finisher from Group C. The average winning margin in the Round of 16 was 14.5 points but that jumped to 21.0 points as Argentina, Spain, Greece and USA all rolled to Quarter-Finals wins - Greece's 17-point victory over France being the closest result.
That left sensationally the final four teams all undefeated at 7-0 going into the Semi-Finals. And the Semi-Finals did not disappoint. The first Semi was Greece vs USA and the Europeans fell behind by 12 points in the second quarter. Greece charged back and built a 14-point lead before holding on for a 101-95 win to shock the world and reach the Final for the first time. Argentina were hoping to follow the Greeks and return to the Final, where they came up just short in 1998 losing to Yugoslavia.
The 2004 Olympic champions Argentina had a back and forth with Spain but the Europeans ended up on top 75-74 as Andres Nocioni missed an open three-pointer in the final seconds. Spain lost leader Pau Gasol to a broken foot in the closing minutes against Argentina but the team gave an inspiring effort in the Final, taking the second quarter 25-11 and running away for a 70-47 victory and their first world title. USA beat Argentina 96-81 to take third place
The best player: Pau Gasol, MVP
The 2006 World Cup MVP ended up not even playing in the Final but Pau Gasol did not have to be physically on the court as he inspired Spain to their first world championship. Spain's talisman got injured at the end of the Semi-Finals win over Argentina and his broken foot did not allow him to play for the title against Greece. He ended up averaging 21.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.4 blocks, finishing third in the tournament in scoring, second in rebounds and second in blocks.
Gasol eased into the tournament with 16 points and 6 rebounds in a comfortable opening win over New Zealand. He followed that with 26 points and 10 rebounds against Panama and collected 16 points in beating Germany. Gasol showed his all-around game against Angola with 28 points, 5 rebounds, 4 asssits, 2 steals and 2 blocks, and finished the group stage with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks against Japan.
Gasol collected another big double-double to start the knockout phase with 19 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Serbia & Montenegro. He followed that with 25 points and 9 rebounds as Spain cruised by Lithuania in the Quarter-Finals. And then he scored 19 points with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Semi-Finals against Argentina. He ended up having to be carried off the court after the game with his broken foot, suffered with a minute and a half remaining.
Pau Gasol may not have been able to play, but you couldn't tell that to his Spanish teammates who were wearing warmup shirts reading "Pau tambien juega" ("Pau is also playing"). Gasol sat by the Spanish bench and enjoyed his brothers dominating against Greece with a 70-47 victory.
Gasol was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammate Jorge Garbajosa, Theo Papaloukas of Greece, Manu Ginobili of Argentina and Carmelo Anthony of USA.
The best game: Greece v USA, Semi-Finals
Greece came into the game with some ups and downs but were always able to come out on top as they did a summer earlier winning the FIBA EuroBasket 2005 crown. But the Greeks were without Nikos Zisis, who had three bones broken in his face in a game against Brazil. And the USA team came into the game with amazing talent but still a young roster with five stars 22 years or younger - Lebron James (21), Chris Paul (21), Dwight Howard (20), Carmelo Anthony (22) and Chris Bosh (22)
Anthony and Howard started strong and six USA offensive rebounds helped the Americans open a 20-14 lead after 10 minutes. An 11-2 run early in the second quarter pushed the cushion out to 33-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half.
Greece's star point guard Theo Papaloukas took over the game with 6 points and 4 assists as the Europeans pushed the tempo and Sofoklis Schortsanitis added 8 points in a 24-8 close to the first half and a 45-41 lead at halftime.
After making just 2-of-8 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, Greece drained four triples in a row early in the third quarter - the last three by Vasilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis and Kostas Tsartsaris for a 14-point lead 65-51. Dimos Dikoudis came off the Greece bench for eight straight points to keep the margin at 12 points - 73-61 - and Greece were leading 77-65 after 30 minutes.
A three-point play by Michail Kakiouzis had the Europeans still up 83-71. But LeBron James and co. were not ready to go down without a fight, James scoring 6 points and Kirk Hinrich's three-pointer trimming the deficit to 91-86 with 3 minutes left.
A triple from Spanoulis kept USA temporarily at bay only to see another Hinrich three-pointer make it 95-91 with 36 seconds left. Kakiouzis and Antonis Fotsis both hit two free throws in the final half minute and the Greek upset was complete.
Spanoulis had 22 points, Kakiouzis scored 15 points, Schortsanitis tallied 14 points and Papaloukas contributed 8 points and 12 assists. Anthony led all scorers with 27 points while Wade scored 19 points and James added 17 points in the loss, in which the Americans converted just 20 of 34 free throws (59 percent).
The biggest story: Start of Spanish dominance
Spain had been knocking on the door of international basketball long enough and the 2006 World Cup triumph finally was the breakthrough. And it started a massively successful run that is still going.
Spain had finished fifth at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups - losing to Greece and Germany, respectively, in the Quarter-Finals. They finished second at the FIBA EuroBasket in 1999 and 2003 and third in 2001 and jumped to seventh at the 2004 Olympics - their best finish since 1984.
Jose Calderon, Carlos Cabezas, Sergio Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Carlos Jimenez and Paul Gasol (from left)
Spain were able to keep together their great generation of the Gasol brothers, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes, Carlos Jimenez and Sergio Rodriguez for many years. And a major portion of that group carried Spain to FIBA EuroBasket titles in 2009, 2011 and 2015 and Olympic silver medals in 2008 and 2012 and a bronze in 2016.
Spain have also been able to shift to another generation and they won a second world title in 2019 and claimed the EuroBasket crown in 2022 - their fourth in the last six editions.
The best performance: Yao Ming
Yao Ming showed once again why he was the biggest force in basketball at the moment as he led the tournament in scoring with 25.3 points, finished fifth with 9.0 rebounds and was third with 2.3 blocks - all while shooting 64 percent from the field and 82 percent from the foul line.
Yao had just turned 26 but he was starting to be affected by injuries, having played 57 of 82 games in the NBA during the 2005-06 season. He didn't miss a game in his first two seasons and played in 80 games in 2004-05.
Yao Ming versus USA
The Chinese giant collected 30 points and 9 rebounds in an opening loss to Italy and followed that with 21 points and 10 rebounds in losing to USA. China fell to 0-3 in the group after a close loss to Puerto Rico despite 29 points and 8 rebounds from Yao.
Yao finally led his team to a victory in the next game, picking up 26 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks against Senegal. He had an even bigger game with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in 40 minutes in a 78-77 win over Slovenia to get China through to the knockout stage. Greece limited Yao to just 10 points and 8 rebounds in a Round of 16 win over China to eliminate the Asian powers.
|Player (country)||Points Per Game|
|Yao Ming (China)||25.3|
|Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)||23.2|
|Pau Gasol (Spain)||21.3|
|Larry Ayuso (Puerto Rico)||21.2|
|Carlos Arroyo (Puerto Rico)||21.2|
|Player (country)||Rebounds Per Game|
|Richard Lugo (Venezuela)||11.4|
|Pau Gasol (Spain)||9.4|
|Darko Milicic (Serbia & Montenegro)||9.3|
|Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)||9.2|
|Yao Ming (China)||9.0|
|Player (country)||Assists Per Game|
|Pepe Sanchez (Argentina)||5.8|
|Carlos Arroyo (Puerto Rico)||5.2|
|Chris Paul (USA)||4.9|
|Liu Wei (China)||4.5|
|LeBron James (USA)||4.1|