Thursday 17 September

Thursday 17 September, Lille

Today’s saw Lille play host to two classification games and one of the semi final games.

I missed the first half of the first of the classification games (this game was not originally on the schedule but a change in the way FIBA will determine qualification for the Olympics added an extra game to the schedule.

The first game was Greece v Latvia. The stadium was very quiet for this game, I think this is likely to be related to the schedule change, and the fact that tip was at 1600 – a little early if you were working.

Greece were behind going in to the half time break and at the start of the third they seemed to have forgotten that they were trying to win. Then, they finally remembered. This definitely made for a more entertaining game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the leading scorer for Greece in the first half, and avoided foul trouble but within 3 minutes he managed to pick up three fouls in the second half, and fouled out in the forth quarter. This is something he needs to work on, he is clearly an offensive asset for Greece but he is not much use to them if he is sitting on the bench.

The leading scorer for Latvia , Kristaps Janicenoks, scored 22 points and picked up four foul. His fouls were not as concentrated in to such a small space of time so it did not seem like such a big thing from him.

A win for Greece means that Latvia will play again on Friday against the loser of the next classification game.

The second classification game was Czech Republic v Italy. By this time the stadium was starting to fill up but it was clear that it was mainly fans for the semi-final. It did produce very little atmosphere for what should have been an exciting game.

Despite being present for the whole game very little stuck in my mind.

It was very close at the half and it did look as though it could go either way. Then during the third Czech Republic were simply outplayed and Italy took a comfortable lead.

Something I found interesting was that the Czech Republic relied heavily on one man, Jan Vesely, to score their points. He was their leading scorer with 26 points. The man with the second highest number of points was Thomas Satoransky with 12. This is something that Latvia should be looking out for, and planning for, for Friday’s game.

Italy had 4 players scoring in double figures with their lead scorer being Andrea Bargnani with 22. This contributed to them being more difficult to defend.
The final game of the day was here. The stadium had filled almost completely, with 26,922 in attendance. This seemed to be about 95% French fans. The atmosphere was amazing and the noise levels were intense. There may have been drums or other noise making equipment present but all I could hear was screaming French fans. They kept the noise levels high all game and were behind the team until the end.

It was incredible to be part of it.

A special mention has to be made of the fans. They were loud, they were passionate and they were courteous – every fan that walked past me in the seating area apologised for making me move and thanked me for doing so. A simple act but one I don’t witness everywhere so I always appreciate it when I do.

This was a close game and it was difficult to be confident in who would win, though I really did think France were going to do it. It really all came to to the last few minutes of overtime.

France were taking a long time to take shots, several times in the game they wasted a lot of time only to miss out on the shot – either because the time ran out or they forced themselves into a poor shot selection that Spain could easily defend. Had a few more of those possessions resulted in points for France it could have been a very different game.

Overall the French foul count was high and they allowed Pau Gasol to get to the line far too many times.

I did see, on Twitter, a French player complaining that the referees were favouring Gasol. I have to say that the referees made a few interesting decisions for both teams and it didn’t really feel as though they were allowing Gasol special treatment, most often it was just sloppy fouls.

France had some amazing blocks and steals and a lot of the time they simply looked more in control. They certainly had more moments that inspired awe. Or that may just be that while sat surrounded by Frenchmen and women I wasn’t allowing myself to be too impressed by Spain (it seemed the safer option).

Spain kept it close and were able to produce a few steals and dunks. They kept their energy up and by overtime they were the team picking better shots and playing better defence.

It was a thrilling game but I do feel that France have some learning to do from that game.

Spain will play in the final on Sunday and on Friday night we will learn who their opponent will be.

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