US still favourites – barely
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.’
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.