Spain on top of the world again - outlast France in OT thriller for second title
DEBRECEN (Hungary) - Spain added a new set of heroes into their basketball legacy as the Iberians captured the title at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2023 with a thrilling 73-69 overtime victory against France.
Jordi Rodriguez scored 18 points and Rafael Villar had 17 points including two free throws with 26 seconds left in overtime of a game for the ages between European giants. Spain earned their second U19 crown following 1999, when players like Juan Carlos Navarro, Raul Lopez, Felipe Reyes, Carlos Cabezas and Pau Gasol won the title.
France have now lost back-to-back U19 World Cup finals - in 2021 to United States. And the country is still waiting for their first global youth championship. Melvin Ajinca netted 21 points for the French, whose only two losses in Debrecen came at the hands of Spain.
Turkey claiming third place with an 84-70 win over United States resulted in the second all-European podium in U19 World Cup history. Lithuania finished first in 2011 ahead of Serbia and Russia in Latvia.
Turning point: In a game with 18 lead changes and six lead changes, it's next to impossible to give one turning point. A major development was France's Zacharie Perrin fouling out with 46 seconds to go in regulation and the French up 63-61. The game was eventually decided on Villar's free throws with 26 seconds left in overtime to make it 72-69. Ab Sediq Garuba added one free throw with 9.4 seconds remaining to make it a four-point game and put it out of reach. Jordi Rodriguez tying the game at 63-63 on a huge shot in the left corner, after a pump fake, was also as decisive as it gets.
Game hero: Izan Almansa played 41:05 minutes for Spain and scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shots and 2-of-2 free throws. He also added 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 1 block to win the TISSOT MVP award. In 2022, he was already MVP of the U17 World Cup and of U18 European Championship.
Stats don't lie: France committed 28 turnovers and also converted just 16-of-26 free throws which ended up off-setting Spain making just 17-of-32 from the foul line and shooting 29 percent from deep. But Spain committed only 7 turnovers.
They said: "The Final was difficult. We believed until the end. France had a great performance but we fought until the last moment. Sometimes basketball is more than just numbers and our heart made the difference in the end," Spain head coach Daniel Garcia
"This feels great. We did an amazing job. We believed every minute that we could win the game. We kept playing with heart and focus. I’m dreaming right now," Spain center Izan Almansa
"It feels amazing. We are an excellent team and I don’t have any words how to describe how I am feeling now. It’s just incredible. We knew that it would be a difficult game. We are Spain and we fight a lot. I am very proud of this team," Spain guard Rafael Villar
"Obviously we wanted to win the whole thing but in sports not everything goes the way you want. We gotta learn from this and bounce back," France center Alexandre Sarr