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Incredible Russia and other surprises

Russia achieved an incredible result by reaching the semifinals and leaving many excellent teams behind. It was unexpected as Russia was coming off the preseason with so many ups and downs, multiple injury and team chemistry problems. They have improved their game a lot since the beginning of the preparation. They move the ball very well. Two NBA players — Kirilenko and Khryapa — have been playing with excellent presence on the court and acting as true leaders.

I’m also very happy for CSKA players. JR’s leadership was decisive in the final minutes against France. Aleksey played some solid games after a difficult preseason. Zakhar is a key player as he scored, defended well and did exactly what was required in crucial moments of all wins so far. Remember his three three-pointers against Greece? The same way he plays with CSKA every year. He’ll never leave a team without support when the team needs it.

Russians will have another difficult challenge as most likely they will face Lithuania in the semifinal. Now they are standing only one game away from going to the Olympics. We all hope they win a medal and qualify to Beijing-2008.

What’s important, all CSKA players reached the quarterfinal round and many of them, like Siskauskas, are among the best players of this Eurobasket.

The biggest surprise is the elimination of Serbia in the first round. It’s a huge disappointment for them. They changed four coaches in four years and even a great coach, like Zelimir Obradovic, didn’t last. Their best players refused to play for the national team and their youngsters weren’t ready to compete at this level. Apparently, they’ve been facing a lot of problems recently. But still their elimination is a big surprise.

Unfortunately, the second biggest disappointment is Italy. Even the presence of Bargnani wasn’t enough to make it to the quarterfinal. The absence of Galanda and Gallinari turned out to be very painful. Italy always had a reputation to play an excellent defense. In Spain they didn’t play in the exact same way. Sometimes they lacked concentration and it wasn’t working anymore like it used to. This is the third competition, after Eurobasket-2005 and World Championship-2006, when Italy wasn’t able to qualify for Top-8. This situation requires a lot of thinking to understand what could be done to improve it.

On the other hand, Portugal and Israel surprised everybody by their unexpected achievements. Portugal qualified for the second phase for the first time in its history. Israel came straight from qualification tournament to the second phase. Both teams played hard and deserve to be praised.

Slovenia lacks three NBA players — Udrih, Nachbar, Brezec — and Becirovic from Panathinaikos, but they somehow managed to find the right chemistry and the comeback of Matjaz until now has been the key to turning them into a winning team.

As for players, I liked the way Lior Eliyahu played. Jasikevicus is playing amazingly well, considering he didn’t play much during his last two seasons in NBA. The majority of NBA stars – Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker, Kirilenko and Khryapa – has been playing consistently so far, leading their teams to Top-8 and keeping their chance to go to Beijing.

To sum up, this Eurobasket proves very interesting. As for my expectations or predictions, I don’t have any. I prefer to see what will be going on.



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