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The tears of Mathias Calfani bode well for Uruguay
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - The ultimate goal for the 24 teams at the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) was to win and clinch spots in the Tokyo Games, which tip off later this month.
But winning one of the four OQTs was not the be-all and end-all for every team. Some countries also wanted to strengthen their national team programs while competing in the OQTs. There were multiple teams that took definitive steps in that regard and one of them was Uruguay.
The No. 45 team in the FIBA World Ranking, Presented by Nike, Uruguay were one of the six teams at the OQT in Victoria, Canada.
They went toe-to-toe with Turkey (No. 15) and the Czech Republic (No. 12), and genuinely believed they had a chance of winning both games to clinch a spot in Tokyo. Uruguay had not played at the Olympics since 1984.
How badly did they want it? And how big of a moment was it for the players? Zero in, specifically, on Mathias Calfani, the 29-year-old power forward/center of La Celeste. The chance to represent his homeland in an OQT was one of the biggest opportunities of his career.
Calfani had 16 points in a narrow defeat to Turkey and was making a big impact in Uruguay's second game against the Czechs when he had to exit the court late in the first half after getting hurt while drawing a charge.
When he returned to the bench shortly before the second half in his warmups, and it was clear he couldn't play anymore, Calfani was overcome with emotion.
Uruguay fought valiantly without him and almost got Calfani a victory. Despite trailing by as many as 16 points in the game and 14 in the fourth quarter, they had a shot at the end to win.
Dimos un paso adelante en este torneo , compitiendo de igual a igual con grandes selecciones y dejando todo todo en la cancha. Más que nunca orgulloso de este equipo de esta familia. Vamos URUGUAY el futuro es muy prometedor 🇺🇾 pic.twitter.com/xO8SKnEZEn— Mathias Calfani (@MathiCalfani) July 2, 2021
Jayson Granger, who was excellent in the two games for Uruguay, missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the death as the Czechs escaped with an 80-79 victory.
In their first game, Uruguay fought back from an 11-point deficit to lead, 79-74, against Turkey with less than five minutes remaining, only to fall, 95-86.
After the defeat to the Czechs, Calfani tweeted: "We took a step forward in this tournament, competing as equals with great teams and leaving everything on the court. More than ever, I'm proud of this team, of this family. Let's go URUGUAY, the future is very promising."
Uruguay coach Ruben Magnano, who was recently inducted to the FIBA Hall of Fame, left the OQT encouraged by the team's performance.
Calfani had 16 points and eight rebounds in the hard-fought game against Turkey
"As in the game against Turkey, I believe that Uruguay made it clear here in Victoria what its character is, a competitive character, of which I am extremely proud as a coach for having directed," he said.
"To quote a biblical phrase, it was a bit like David versus Goliath. However, we should be proud despite the tears because we have been up to standard."
The players jelled and came together with a shared sense of purpose, and the belief that nothing is bigger than the idea of representing the country.
"I consider that an element, and a value, like commitment, is something that we need to impose in the process of the national team," Magno said. "To have the pride to belong, and have a great sense of belonging, for your national team because that's where you start to build everything.
"I think those values were shown, despite the defeats we suffered here in Canada."
Uruguay didn't reach Tokyo, yet they have left the OQT a better national team.
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