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So what are the chances of getting one of the eight coveted World Cup spots still remaining for Europe?
MIES (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - If it was crunch time in the September European Qualifiers, it's do-or-die time now. The Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Lithuania have already clinched their places at next year's World Cup in China but eight spots for European teams are still up for grabs and some will be snapped up in the fifth window.
Here is the lay of the land.
The screeching sound you heard on September 14 in Kiev wasn't the Ukraine train going off the rails but previously unbeaten Spain (now 7-1) having to slam on the brakes in the European Qualifiers after a 76-65 defeat. Spain then held on by the skin of their teeth and beat Latvia, 85-82, in Madrid with visiting guard Janis Strelnieks missing a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the end. Spain play at Turkey on November 29 and then host Ukraine in Tenerife on December 2. Spain fans will be confident their team will snap Turkey's three-game winning streak in Ankara and clinch a World Cup spot (if Ukraine also fall to Slovenia that same day), won't they?
The situation's looking a lot better for Turkey (6-2) now than it was on February 26 when a 79-70 defeat at Latvia left the 12 Giant Men with a 2-2 record in the European Qualifiers. A win over Spain in the next window would put Ufuk Sarica's men in first place, and if they also prevailed at Montenegro in Niksic on December 2, and Latvia lost to either Montenegro or Slovenia, then Sarica's team would seal a place in China. Can you see that happening with NBA duo Furkan Korkmaz and Cedi Osman not in the team this window?
Latvia (5-3) are in third place going into their home game against Montenegro on November 29 yet the Balkan side is nipping at their heels with a 4-4 record. If both Montenegro and a struggling Slovenia beat the Baltic side in the next window, where would Latvia be in their quest to reach China?
Montenegro (4-4) looked dead in the water in the First Round after a 1-3 start yet here they are, still in the hunt going into their games against Latvia in Riga on November 29 and three days later in Niksic against Turkey. The Nikola Ivanovic and Bojan Dubljevic show against Ukraine in the last window (they combined for 56 points) is the side's signature moment in the Qualifiers. Has there been a more transformative team in Group I than the Montenegro?
With Svi Mykhailiuk (22 points) doing his thing and leading the team past Spain, 76-65, in the last window, Ukraine were right where they wanted to be at 4-3. But then Montenegro happened. Two wins in the upcoming window, though, over Slovenia in Zaporizhia on November 29 and then Spain in Tenerife on December 2 would get the Ukraine train back on track. Let's do it!
Want a case study in the ups and downs of international basketball? Look at Slovenia. From basking in the glow as FIBA EuroBasket 2017 champions to bottom of Group I at 2-6 and needing wins over Ukraine and then Latvia in Ljubljana to maintain a flicker of hope of reaching the World Cup. Maybe they'll be thinking five consecutive defeats have set the stage for a late miracle run to World Cup qualification.
Okay, okay - they're already qualified. But the games against Italy in Brescia on November 29 and Croatia in Vilnius on December 2 still matter for them. They'll impact seedings at the World Cup. And don't forget the very important matter of players trying to enhance their prospects of making the roster for China.
Two wins in the next window would do more than earn the players a nice plate of pasta and a bottle of Barolo. It would get them a ticket to the World Cup! Italy (6-2) are going to go all out to get those victories, but Lithuania in Brescia and especially Poland in Gdansk (December 2) will have other things in mind.
Knowing that a top-three finish is needed to reach the World Cup, would coach Mike Taylor and Poland (they have four wins in eight games and take on the Netherlands in Den Bosch on November 29 before facing Italy) have grabbed the opportunity to be third in Group J with four games remaining as they currently are?
The Hungarians control their own destiny if you buy into the thought that Poland will lose at least one of their last four games. If Hungary win their last four and go 8-4, starting with a couple of winnable encounters against Croatia in Osijek on November 29 and then the Netherlands in Budapest on December 2, surely that would be good enough for third place.
So close, but yet so far. If only the Dutch had not fallen in an overtime thriller to Lithuania in the last round, they'd be in a three-way tie with the Poles and Hungarians. Alas, if's and but's do not win games but hey, the Oranje are still alive and that's all that counts as they get ready to host Poland on November 29 and then face Hungary in Budapest.
Enough with the doldrums surrounding Croatia's national team. They've done it before and they can do it again. If Croatia win their remaining four games, starting with Hungary at home later this month in Osijek and then with Lithuania in Vilnius, this country with a rich tradition in hoops has to believe it will be at the party in China next year!
France (7-1) will qualify for the World Cup if they win at the Czech Republic, in Pardubice, on November 30. They will also exact revenge from their only loss of the Qualifiers if they can beat Bulgaria in Limoges on December 3. Les Bleus should be breathing fire heading into that game.
The pressure is off for the Czechs, who've already qualified for China. They'll play France, in front of their home crowd, with joy and freedom. Against Russia on December 3 in the Moscow Region, you know the Czechs will take that game seriously! Coach Neno Ginzburg is certain to give some opportunities to new players. The incentive is there to play well and prevail because the Czechs can also improve their seeding for China.
Circle Russia's fixture against Finland in Espoo on November 30 on your calendar and make sure you're watching livebasketball.tv. The winner will take the inside track to qualification. Russia will also want to deliver a beatdown of the Czechs after suffering a narrow defeat to them in their first meeting. If Russia lose to the Finns and then fall to the Czechs?
Remember when Finland (4-4) surprised Russia in the Group Phase of FIBA EuroBasket 2013, 86-83, and also beat them 81-79 two years later at the EuroBasket in Montpellier? This is a HUGE game for the Susijengi. A win, and then a victory at Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica on December 3 would put them in good shape. Good news for Finland is that Petteri Koponen, Sasu Salin and Erik Murphy are in the squad.
If Bulgaria win twice in the upcoming window, the Kavarma will taste better than ever. They square off against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Botevgrad on November 30 and then have their away meeting with France, in Limoges. Two wins would give the Bulgarians plenty of hope heading into their two games.
Never say never but the chances of making it to China are bleak at best for Bosnia and Herzegovina. One defeat, against Bulgaria or Finland, and you'll be able to stick a fork in 'em. Nevertheless, where there is hope, there is life.
Look for the Germans to go all out for victory at Greece, in Patras, on November 30, then against Estonia in Ludwigsburg on December 3. Germany want the best seeding possible for the World Cup.
Were Greece (8-0), who host Germany and then take on Serbia in Belgrade (Dec. 3), not to win another game in the European Qualifiers, it wouldn't matter. Their World Cup berth-clinching, 86-85 buzzer-beating win at Georgia in the last window, courtesy of Nick Calathes, is a memory that is going to make Greek fans smile all the way up to China.
Germany took center-stage in the First Round by sweeping Serbia and then Greece beat Aleksander Djordjevic's team in the Second Round in September. Everything, you surely must agree, is going according to plan for the Serbians 😁. Everyone knows that Serbia are going to survive and advance. At 5-3 and in third place, alarm bells are not ringing in Belgrade.
Georgia (3-5) travel to Tallinn for a game against Estonia on November 30 nursing a hangover from that heartbreaking defeat to Greece. And two Serbia wins in this window eliminate Georgia from contention for a World Cup spot. Even so, Georgia are going to approach their next four games the way they've approached all the others (they also face Israel in Tblisi in the next window on December 3).
Israel fans shouldn't be too hard on their squad for the intentionally missed free-throw at the end that cost them victory against Germany on September 16. With young players in the squad, the Qualifiers have been a learning experience. It's also, clearly, been a learning experience for coach Oded Kattashe. Their World Cup dream will be over if the Serbians win twice in the upcoming window.
Estonia (2-6) were completely overmatched in their Second Round defeats to Germany and Serbia. Even so, neither Georgia nor Germany should take them lightly in their games coming up.
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