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Germany's secret weapon for Croatia: Robin Benzing, the defensive stopper
SPLIT (Croatia) - Since making his national debut back in 2009, Robin Benzing has always been the offensive presence for Germany. Out of nowhere, his defense lifted the team in Split twelve years later.
You know how good and influential the captain was when even his coach mentioned him in the press conference after the game against Russia. In case you are not following, name dropping by coaches in their quotes after a game in the middle of a tournament rarely happens. Actually, almost never.
"It's an extreme pleasure working with this group, we had contributions from guys, everyone was into it, certainly have to mention Robin Benzing coming off the bench, giving us a great lift," coach Henrik Rodl said, nodding his head to further emphasize the admiration for his captain's performance.
Benzing finished with 6 points in 16 minutes, but also had 3 assists and 2 rebounds, and Germany were a +15 team with him on the floor. That's a massive +/- for a game which finished +2. The most impressive part of the stats: 2 steals and 2 blocks.
"I've had (games with multiple steals and blocks). Even this season, I had many games with multiple steals. Also blocks," Robin said.
Playing for Casademont Zaragoza in the Spanish Liga Endesa in 2020-21, Benzing averaged 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks in 36 games. The numbers are similar over the 14 games played in the Basketball Champions League, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks, which is why seeing a 32-year-old Robin fill the defensive stats - and doing it in less than 20 minutes - comes as a massive surprise.
"We desperately needed some energy, because we didn't start well. I try to help the team in any kind of way, if offensively it's not going well for me or the team, then we need to get some energy and get back on track. I've done these (events) before. That's why I just try to lead by example," the forward explained.
When coach Rodl gets such contribution from one of the guys in the august of his playing days, the whole team looks better. Because everybody knows Benzing is capable of putting up insane shooting numbers, hitting eight three-pointers in an international game, scoring 30+ without breaking a sweat.
Combine the shooting and the defense and you get special plays and game winners. Take for example the game against Russia: They were up 8 in the final minute of the third quarter, meaning Germany were out of the competition at that point. Maodo Lo had a floater, and Benzing followed it up with a steal and a triple, in a sequence which cut the gap to -3 and could be described with a single word:
"Either you feel it or not. I was in a good mode, I made a shot before that and I know I'm capable of making these shots. I've done it many times in my career. We got a defensive stop, I checked the clock, it was actually like 30 seconds to go in the quarter, so it was a good time to shoot a quick shot, because we could still get another (possession). Luckily it went in. It was good. It was good. (smiles) Momentum changer for us," Benzing said, reminiscing about the biggest play of the game.
Afterwards, Russia could not break away anymore. Joshiko Saibou and Johannes Voigtmann had their clutch shots, Germany secured pole position in their group and booked a date with their hosts in Split.
"Super tough. Croatia is still the favorite in this tournament, even though they aren't playing their basketball right now," Benzing said. "From the team, the names, everything, I think this is the best team of this tournament. It's gonna be a dog fight."
The German forward isn't expecting a beautiful game.
"All teams struggle on offense. Every game is... Well, not easy to watch for everybody," Benzing added. "Defensive minded games, very physical, and we have to keep it that way, in order to prevent Croatia from getting their offensive power running because if they do, it's gonna be very tough to beat them."
Germany and Croatia take the floor at 16:00 CET on Saturday. Brazil and Mexico are in the other Semi-Final, with the early tip-off at 12:30 local time.