SPORTS

Greece set to advance to basketball finals in style

The national basketball team’s string of victories in qualifiers for next year’s Eurobasket Championships in Sweden, following mundane performances and early departures from tournaments in more recent times, have invigorated the players and the coach. Since taking over the helm of the demoralized Greek side four months ago, coach Yiannis Ioannidis, who, in the past has enjoyed considerable success with Greek teams in both domestic and European club-level competition, has stirred up renewed interest in a national team that had brought the country to an unprecedented sporting frenzy in 1987, when it was crowned European Champion after overcoming the mighty Soviet Union team. The team managed to earn respectable placings in ensuing major international competitions, such as the European and World Championships, but in more recent times, suffered acute failures, namely Greece’s first-round departures from the previous two Eurobasket finals, which seriously hurt the team’s popularity ratings. With five wins in five games at its Eurobasket qualifiers, the most recent registered last weekend against a powerful Spanish team that had captured silver and bronze medals at the competition’s previous two finals, Greece looks set to advance to the finals in stylish fashion. Just two days before defeating Spain, 86-73, an all-time record margin, Greece had also clinched victory against Israel before the side’s fiery home crowd in Tel Aviv, after comfortable victories against the group’s less challenging sides, Belgium, Denmark and Romania. The two top-placed teams will advance to next year’s finals. In his post-match comments following his side’s loss against Greece, Spain’s coach, Javier Improda, attributed the national side’s impressive form to Ioannidis. «The difference with Greece is its coach. Don’t look elsewhere,» said Improda, who was warmly thanked by his rival coach.