US still favourites – barely

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

THE USA’s NBA stars will face Ar­gentina’s age­ing but still scrappy “golden gen­er­a­tion” in a com­pelling grudge match in the Rio Games bas­ket­ball knock­out phase.

Spain will play Euro­pean ri­vals France in an­other key quar­ter­fi­nal clash to­day as the Olympic tour­na­ment’s winor-go-home match-ups fall into place.

In the other quar­ter­fi­nals, Aus­tralia meets Lithua­nia while Croa­tia and Ser­bia bat­tle in a Balkan show­down.

The brack­ets were set late on Au­gust 15 with the fi­nal Group B games, in­clud­ing Spain’s crunch 90-82 vic­tory over Ar­gentina.

A loss would have sent Spain, the two-time sil­ver medal­lists, on an un­ex­pect­edly early trip home, while Ar­gentina sought a win to avoid fac­ing the high-pow­ered Amer­i­cans.

Ar­gentina is the last team to have beaten the USA in Olympic com­pe­ti­tion, in the Athens 2004 semi-fi­nal en route to the South Amer­i­can coun­try’s only bas­ket­ball gold.

It was the only time the Amer­i­cans have been de­nied gold since NBA pros were al­lowed to rep­re­sent the States be­gin­ning in 1992, and it still smarts with Team USA.

Ar­gentina bat­tled into the Rio quar­ters led by four vet­er­ans from that “golden gen­er­a­tion” squad, in­clud­ing four-time NBA champ Manu Gi­no­bili of the San An­to­nia Spurs.

“I feel very for­tu­nate to be here at 39 [years old]. We’re go­ing to try and play our best bas­ket­ball pos­si­ble, no mat­ter who we play,” Gi­no­bili said.

It will be an en­tic­ing match-up of bat­tle-hardened Olympic vet­er­ans – buoyed by bois­ter­ous Ar­gentina fans – against an ex­plo­sive young Amer­i­can team seek­ing a third straight gold. Span­ish cen­tre

The Amer­i­cans trig­gered ques­tions af­ter win­ning by in­creas­ingly nar­row mar­gins in the groups, but they went 5-0 and are yet to dis­play their full fire­power.

Spain reached the gold-medal match against the USA in the past two Olympics, but looked in trou­ble in Rio af­ter los­ing its first two games.

But they won their next two and on Au­gust 15 pounced on Ar­gentina with an early 22-3 run and never looked back.

Euro­pean ri­vals “We have been through this sit­u­a­tion be­fore,” said Span­ish coach Sergio Scar­i­olo.

“We know how to play un­der pres­sure. We know what it takes to win.”

The re­sult crushed tour­na­ment host Brazil’s hopes of ad­vanc­ing.

Spain’s vic­tory, how­ever, puts them in the USA’s bracket, and they will need to be gi­ant-killers to make the fi­nal a third straight time.

The USA has not lost a game in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion for a decade.

But Spain must first get by now­fa­mil­iar France.

The game will fea­ture a num­ber of cur­rent or for­mer NBA play­ers from both sides in­clud­ing team lead­ers and past NBA cham­pi­ons Pau Ga­sol, Spain’s cen­tre, and French point guard Tony Parker.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult match-up that we know well,” Ga­sol said.

“They beat us two years ago, we beat them last year, and now we face them again in a crit­i­cal game.”

Like Spain, Croa­tia en­tered Au­gust 15 fac­ing pos­si­ble elim­i­na­tion in tightly bunched Group B.

But the day’s re­sults, in­clud­ing Croa­tia’s 90-81 vic­tory over Lithua­nia, al­lowed them to win the group and face Group A fourth-placer Ser­bia. –

‘It’s a dif­fi­cult match up that we know well. They beat us two years ago, we beat them last year.’

Pau Ga­sol

Photo: AFP

Shoot­ing guard Manu Gi­no­bili (left) and Spain’s cen­tre Pau Ga­sol eye a re­bound dur­ing a men’s round Group B bas­ket­ball match be­tween Spain and Ar­gentina at Car­i­oca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on Au­gust 15. Both teams threaten the Amer­i­cans’ hold on in­ter­na­tional bas­ket­ball.

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