Semi-Finals preview: France gearing up for Israel test; Germany and Croatia put undefeated records on the line
CHEMNITZ (FIBA U20 European Championship 2018) – The stars of the FIBA U20 European Championship 2018 have kept fans on the edge of their seats with an exciting and highly unpredictable tournament, with plot twists at every corner.
After booking Semi-Finals tickets earlier in the week, the quartet of Croatia, France, Germany and Israel will all enter Saturday's action with golden aspirations, but there is room only for two teams in the Final.
Les Bleuets will be challenged by last year's runners-up Israel, while the tournament hosts Germany and dark horse candidates Croatia will put their undefeated records on the line when they go up against each other.
Time: 18:00 CET, Saturday
Main storylines: The 1998-born generation of French players have triumphed at the U16 and U18 tournaments and are now are hoping to do it one last time in Chemnitz, despite playing without some of their biggest stars. At the other end of the court, you have a talented Israeli team with four silver medalists from last year's FIBA U20 European Championship in Crete.
Key match-up: Although both sides already proved they are far from one-man teams, the match-up between French captain Bathiste Tchouaffe and Israeli swingman Yovel Zoosman promises the most intrigue. Intelligent and skilled offensively, Tchouaffe will be dealing with a two-way star in Zoosman, who enjoys a physical game and has a slight height advantage.
Fact of the game: During the course of the tournament, Israel have had 10 different players in double figures in at least one game.
They said: "Getting some rest during the day off is very important. We're playing Israel, so it's going to be a very tough game. Everybody is ready for the Semi-Finals and we will see how it plays out" – France guard Bathiste Tchouaffe.
"Last year's event was a big experience for me and I came to show my best this year together with my friends. I won't hide it, we believe that we can win the Championship" – Israel guard Gil Aharon Beni.
The 'insider' prediction: Flipping a coin may be the most accurate way to predict the winner of this match-up, but the injury status of Abdoulaye N'Doye looms large for France. If he's unable to go, Israel will probably enter the game as slight favorites.
Time: 20:15 CET, Saturday
Main storylines: The Kostja Mushidi-led Germany are looking to sign off from FIBA youth tournaments with a victory on their home floor, having not been able to cash in on their talent so far. Meanwhile, Croatia are the darlings of the tournament, who weren't on many people's radars before the tournament. The 1998-born generation even got relegated at U18 level in 2016, but are now looking to redeem themselves with a medal.
Key match-up: The five-man battle between German big man Filip Stanic and Croatian center Kresimir Ljubicic has 'classic' written all over it. On a guard-dominated team, Ljubicic is probably the only player who can hold his own against Stanic in terms of physicality.
Fact of the game: In the past 10 years, the FIBA U20 European Championships has been won by the hosts on three separate occasions. Greece used home court advantage in 2008 and 2017, while Spain won in 2011.
They said: "It's my last year with the youth teams. We never got any medals in youth competitions and we had a pretty good team, pretty good rosters back in the day. Isaiah (Hartenstein) was there, (Isaac) Bonga was there too. And we never made it. This is our last chance to win and we want a gold medal. We're now in the Semi-Finals and we're aiming for the Finals. We're aiming for the big win" – Germany guard Kostja Mushidi.
"In the Semi-Final, you can expect a strong, aggressive game from us. We will try to overrun, overpower and out-jump our opponents, and dominate the game with our play" – Croatia center Kresimir Ljubicic.
The 'insider' prediction: Home court advantage usually plays a role in tournaments like this, so Germany should theoretically be favored to come out on top. But don't be so quick to rule out those feisty Croatians either.