The long wait finally ended on Saturday, August 30, 2014 with all participating nations of FIBA Basketball World Cup playing their first games of the Group Stage. After 12 action-packed games on Saturday, the intriguing action continued as another 12 matches were played on Sunday in the Spanish cities of Sevilla, Bilbao, Gran Canaria and Granada. On both days, the matches brought the thrills, turnarounds and acts of survival. Every World Cup city hosted three matches each but Saturday’s Group B game at Sevilla between Croatia and the Philippines raised goose pimples to the spectators and went down to the wire before Croatia narrowly came through 81-78. Likewise at Bilbao on Sunday, Turkey gave a genuine scare to favorites USA in Group C and led 40-35 at halftime. But the Americans came back strongly in the second half to grind the Turkish challenge to dust with the final winning score of 98-77. In another thriller on Sunday at Granada, France scored a narrow 74-73 win against Serbia in Group A, when a victory-snatching throw by Joffrey Lauvergne found the basket with just one second left in the match. Also in Granada, hosts Spain won both their Group A matches on August 30 and 31 in overwhelming style. With only two days’ play in the World Cup gone until Sunday, the exhilaration and expectations are already running high.
The Basketball World Cup exploded into action straightaway on day 1 with Croatia surviving a Filipino scare at Sevilla. The match got as close as it could get despite three comfortable quarters for the Croats as they raced away to an early lead. While Philippines struggled, Croatia were cozily placed on 23-9 at the first of the three regulation breaks. The Filipinos failed to put up any meaningful challenge even in the next two quarters and it seemed that the tall Croats would easily win the match. But the game came alive in the last quarter as Jeff Chan began to fire shots from outside to surprise Croatia. Chan had good company in Andray Blatche, who scored a three-pointer to tie the game 64-64. With spring in their feet, the Philippine hoopers matched their Croatian counterparts as the game swung back and forth. The Filipinos went into the lead, when Blatche’s superb effort made it 69-66. Not to be outdone, Croatia’s Krunsolav Simon came up with a three-pointer and helped by Dario Saric’s undergoal stab, took the score to 71-69 in Croatia’s favor. But Filipino Jason Castro drove inside to convert a difficult floater to tie the score again at 71-71. Both teams had their chances as regulation time ran out but they couldn’t convert the opportunities. As the game entered overtime, the tooth-and-nail battle continued with both teams scoring until Blatche was committed a foul as he aimed for a three. Later however, Blatche sank two throws to put Philippines on a 75-73 lead again. At this point, Bojan Bogdnajovic changed everything. He scored six straight points to take Croatia to 79-75. With less than ten seconds remaining, Blatche produced a three pointer to reduce the gap but Croatia still led 79-78. The Filipinos made a cardinal error by intentionally fouling Damjan Rudez, who scored twice from free throws and the match ended at 81-78 in favor of Croatia.
In other matches on Saturday; USA defeated Finland 114-55; hosts Spain routed Iran 90-60 with the Gasol brothers yielding top performance; Turkey bounced back from a 10-point deficit at halftime to defeat New Zealand 76-73; Ukraine scored their first-ever World Cup win, when they beat Dominican Republic 72-62; Brazil edged out France 65-63 in a game that also went to the wire; Serbia beat Egypt 85-64; Argentina defeated Puerto Rico 98-75; Angola beat Korea 80-69; Australia beat Slovenia 90-80; Mexico beat Lithuania 74-87; and Greece defeated Senegal 87-64.
Sunday saw another thrilling day with defending champions USA being threatened by Turkey and 2013 European champions France playing a ding-dong battle with Serbia. The Turkey-USA match was played at Bilbao with Turkey playing superbly to lead 40-35 at the end of the first two quarters. But the reigning champions raised their game after halftime and came out as winners. USA suddenly began stealing the ball from the Turks and that helped them build a 30-12 margin in turnovers. The sudden turnaround surprised the Turks, who couldn’t fare like they did in the first two quarters. USA finally won the match 98-77.
In another Group A cliff-hanger at Granada, France were solidly challenged by Serbia. With Saturday’s close match with Brazil, the Frenchmen needed to win to stay in contention. But it was not until the fourth quarter, that France showed their true potential. Boris Diaw was the man for France as he either scored or provided assists. Close to regulation time, Serbia was leading 73-71 but Diaw equalized with 18 seconds remaining. At a crucial juncture, just as Serbian Raduljica was fouled, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joffrey Lauvergne combined to take France to victory.
In Sunday’s other matches, Dominican Republic beat New Zealand 76-63; Australia beat Korea 89-55, Croatia defeated Argentina 90-85; Finland beat Ukraine 81-76; Slovenia beat Mexico 89-68; Senegal beat Puerto Rico 82-75; Brazil beat Iran 79-50; Lithuania beat Angola 75-62; Greece beat Philippines 82-70 and Spain defeated Egypt 91-54.
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