Seeking to recapture some lost glory
Seeking to recapture its place as a European basketball heavyweight, the men’s national team will need to overcome Italy in a quarterfinal encounter tomorrow night at the European Championships in Sweden. Greece’s quest for a return to glory follows disappointing performances at the last two Europeans in 1999 and 2001. Greece won the title back in 1987 and performed steadily until the late 1990s. «There have been some tournaments where we’d capture fourth place and not feel satisfied. We used to say that it would have been better if we had won a medal,» noted team player Dimitris Papanicolaou yesterday. «But then the big disappointments came, which made us realize how big a deal it is to make it to the top four in such a tournament. We’re striving for the top four here and we’ll take it from there,» he added. Greece advanced to the quarterfinals as the winner of its group, with three wins in as many games against Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine, but needed to play catch-up in each game. The Italians, who ended third in their group, needed to play an additional game for a quarterfinal place. Italy upset Germany, second in its group, 86-84, in an elimination match on Monday. Teams that ended second and third in the tournament’s first-round group play clashed for quarterfinal berths in intergroup elimination matches. The sides that topped the first round’s four groups, Greece among them, advanced automatically. Three of the four teams that ended third in first-round group play managed to snatch quarterfinal berths from second-placed sides. «It’s easy to see how tough this competition is from these results,» forward Frangiskos Alvertis commented yesterday. He described Greece’s quarterfinal opponent, Italy, as «neither a gift nor a surprise.» Italy, a formidable presence in European basketball, had been written off by numerous pundits prior to Monday’s victory against Germany. «Everybody thought we were gone, but here we are, and looking to go a step higher,» Italian center Denis Marconato, said yesterday. Obviously pleased by their victory over the Germans, the Italian squad arrived in Stockholm for tomorrow’s quarterfinal. The team played Monday’s elimination match in Norrkoping, south of the Swedish capital. Italy’s coach Carlo Recalcati said the Greek team enjoyed comparative advantages over Italy but noted that his side would remain unperturbed. «Greece is one of the favorites for a medal and, compared to our team, is stronger in some positions, but all is possible in a game,» said Recalcati. In other quarterfinals, Russia plays France while Lithuania meets Serbia and Montenegro, both tonight. Spain will clash against Israel in the competition’s other quarterfinal draw tomorrow. This game’s winner will meet either Greece or Italy in the semifinals.