If I would be asked to name this group I would call it “Group of Wrong Favorites”. According to odds group A have 2 clear favorites – Greece and Croatia. Public as usually expects big teams to have easy life on first stage but as often happens some of them starting to experience problems at the start of the tournament. This group also has one I would say “questioned” favorite which may provide some unexpected results.
2 other teams (Macedonia and Israel) are playing outsiders role while Israel is placed as favorite to promote from this group. But I again have some major doubts about their status and I will tell you why in this Eurobasket 2009 Group A Preview.
Team full of experienced players which knows how to control game tempo and moving the ball very well (only 10 TO per game in friendlies). This teams know how to score points and their offense should not be underestimated at any cost. Each player in this team can score points from paint or hit a 3 pointer. Even centers doing this pretty well and it is not easy to defend against such physical in defense and inside-out on offense team.
The weak points is their short rotation. The don’t have enough bodies to cover 1-2 position where 37 y.o. Stefanov looks like the only player who can play on this level. Also they have troubles on small forward position but they can cover this by playing high-five. In long-term short rotation with no doubts will affect on their game but in the beginning of tournament they can provide some surprises.
Prediction: 8-13 places
I expect Macedonia to promote from first group by beating Israel or even Greece which is not looking like unbeatable team. If they will go to the 2nd stage there they have really good chance to fight for a quarterfinal spot against weakened Russia, Latvia and/or Germany. But 8th place is the end of the Macedonian tale which can also end with elimination after 1st round.
Israel is built around quartet Halperin-Elyahu-Phynni-Burstein but looks like they can’t find a common language with coach and bench players. Israel was not impressive in friendlies and did not show anything to prove me that they are build to qualify from this group easily. Maybe Z.Sherf will find right words for his team and they will play at their level which should be enough to fight with teams in this group but lack of power under baskets may hurt them because all 3 teams in group has very strong front-line.
Prediction: 11-14 places
I expect a tough life in Israel at this tournament. They have 7-8 players roster but they are not showing any chemistry or own style. It will be hard for them to control rebounds against big and physical team and I would not be surprises if they fail to get out of this group.
As you all know Greece will be without Diamanditis and Papaloukas in Poland. This is a big-big blow for this team and I would not bet any single cent on this team to win something big here. Just look at their roster which is totally disbalanced. They have 4 guards (where only Zisis and Spanoulis looks like players ready to play on this level), 1 forward and 7 (!!!) big players. Ok, that’s fine that big players can provide a Greece defense but what about offense? In friendlies games Greece was not looking good on offensive end while defense works only when referees allows them to play in “full contact” mode there.
Prediction: 7-9 place
The talent which this team obviously have should help to avoid disaster in the first round, while opponents problems in group B could help them to enter playoffs. But I think that Greece team will have a tough life in Poland. They never were really good away from home so we can expect very tight games with Israel and Macedonia where Greece may lose a golden point which will cost them quarterfinals. In any case Greece is not a team to trust in my opinion. If they will be eliminated from playoff battle I would not be surprised at all.
Croatia known as basketball country with many good players but since 1995 they never were in medals. Now it’s time to make write new history. Croatia has well balanced team in all lines. Just look at this roster:
Ukic – Planinic
M.Popovic – Kus
The only blow they have is injury of Marko Tomas from Real Madrid who was a perfect small forward for this team but even without him Croatia is looking like a most balanced team on this tournament (after Spain for sure). Also like coach tandem here Repesa & Anzulovic are very good coaches and they know how to compete at this level.
The only problem of this team is a health of their veterans. Popovic, Vujcic, Planinic, Kasun had some injuries during preparation period and missed training sessions. If they will be fit during Eurobasket marathon this team will have really good perspectives in Poland.
Prediction: 1-3 place
Yes, you may call me crazy but I think that on a good day Croatia may win against Spain and take revenge for Eurobasket-2005 where Spain won because of referees help. I don’t see any troubles for Croatia in first stage while on second stage the only which may deliver problems to this team is France. If Croatia will avoid Spain in quarterfinals (for this they should enter quarterfinals from 4th place) they chances for semifinal looks very high. They have a good draw, good team and good momentum for success. I see Croatia with medals here.