With USA already booking their place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup final, you may have forgiven both of these teams for thinking if it was worth their while winning their semi-final match. The American side has been destroying teams in their way and they are clearly favourites to lift the Gold Medals at the end of the event. Then again, you get nowhere in sport by being fearful and with a minimum of a Silver Medal, and the chance to cause the greatest upset in the history of basketball, awaiting the winner of the match; there was plenty to play for.
France already knew what it was like to cause a big upset at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. They had smashed the bookmakers while smashing host nation Spain, the second favourites for the tournament. The nature of France’s win was shown up by the fact that they weren’t even favourites for this semi-final match. In sport there is a saying that runs “you are only as good as your last game” but even though France had overcome Spain in the semi-final, the bookmakers were still siding with Serbia to get through and be the team to take on USA.
This was how it eventually panned out but it was by no means a straightforward or run of the mill match.
Serbia v France 90-85
There was a late onslaught from the French side but Serbia were able to hold on and progress to the Gold Medal game. The fact that Serbia had five players who made it into double figures with respect to scoring says a lot and the 24 points delivered from Milos Teodosic played a big part in getting through to the final. There has been a lot of focus on the role NBA players would have in the tournament but this CSKA Moscow player was probably the one that had the greatest impact on the match. France may have been able to put the Spanish side on lockdown but they couldn’t repeat this feat, with Serbia looking dangerous throughout the game. The Serbs held a 46-32 advantage at the half-time mark, with Teodosic delivering 18 points in the opening two quarters.
At this point, France knew that they had to pull out a massive performance in the second half. They could only draw the third quarter but in the final quarter, they were mounting an all-out assault on their opponents with Nicolas Batum leading the line superbly. At one point in the second half, France were 18 points behind but with around 5 minutes left to play, this had been whittled down to a four point game. This meant that both teams were looking to attack their opponents and fans in the arena or watching around the world were treated to a back and forth shoot-out to get to the final. This is what sport should be about, two teams trying their hardest knowing that there is a massive prize on offer at the end of it all.
Bogdanovic knows what it takes to win games
Bogdan Bogdanovic hadn’t been the attention grabbing player up to this point but as you would expect, when his team needs him, he knows when to step up and take control of a game. Bogdanovic launched a stunning three pointer at this junction of the game, dragging Serbia back to 7 in front and they never really looked like relinquishing their lead once that had gone in. Sure France were going to keep battling but you got the impression that Serbia had enough left in their locker to just about keep themselves ahead of their opponent and so it proved. Serbia managed to extend their lead to 9 points with just less than 3 minutes on the clock but when you are so close to a final, there is no reason for you to roll over and take what is coming to you, with Batum on the French side taking this as a personal quest to get his team back on level terms.
Batum was on fire
He sank a three pointer, just three of the 17 points that he delivered in the final quarter alone! In the course of the game, the player managed to deliver 35 points for the French side so when players take about giving it everything that they had and leaving it all on the court, he is one player that can say he did everything in his power to try and give the French another victory in this tournament. It wasn’t enough in the end, Serbia always had more about them, but it was a valiant effort by the French. They may not have received much sympathy from their hosts, their bitter rivals and the team they knocked out in the previous round, but for many fans, the play of France was very much deserving of a bigger return than what they received.
Of course, what they received on Friday night was the opportunity to play again on Saturday, which was hardly fair compensation for their efforts. The third and fourth match may not have been what France was hoping for, and no team really wants to see Lithuania lining up against them, but the French go into this match knowing that they have a chance to take home a medal. There will be some people who say that they deserve one due to knocking out the Spanish side but of course, you don’t get anything automatically in sport, you have to go out and take it. Whether the French side will have enough left in the tank to take on a Lithuanian side who had an extra day’s rest and whose fate was sealed much earlier on against the American side remains to be seen.
That isn’t the concern for Serbia though and no matter what happens on Sunday, they know they will be heading home with at least a Silver Medal from this tournament. This is clearly something that is worth celebrating but the players also know they have the chance to write their name in the basketball history books. It is a slim chance, but it is a chance nonetheless.