On a day, when France lost the 2016 European football championship game to Portugal, they still had some good news from the basketball performance from their men’s national team. In the final at Manila on July, France defeated Canada 83-74 and confirmed their passage to Brazil. A day earlier, Serbia had also sealed their Rio berth at Belgrade by an overwhelming 108-77 victory over Puerto Rico in the final. In Turin, hosts Italy were disappointed with a 78-84 loss against Croatia, who also booked their ticket to Rio.
On July 9 & 10, the Olympic Qualification Tournaments were concluded in the Philippines, Serbia and Italy. The three remaining spots were grabbed by the winners; France, Serbia and Croatia. While the finals in Belgrade and Turin were played on July 9, the Manila event took another day. France and Canada had entered the final at Manila and one of them was destined to take the Rio ticket. In the end, the former European champions France made the Olympic cut with an 83-74 finals victory over Canada. Leading the French charge was playmaker Tony Parker, who came up with 26 points, some of them from long distance. France made a good beginning with a 12-2 first quarter run and never looked back afterwards. However, the Canadian tried to close the gap as the match progressed. After France established a 48-38 lead in the third quarter, Canada rallied to come within 5 points in the last 10 minutes. But tournament MVP Nando de Colo chipped in with 22 points and with Parker making the basket with his audacious three-pointers and vicious drive, France broke the Canadian hearts. For Canada, Cory Joseph netted 20 points and Melvin Ejim added another 19 in defeat.
A day earlier in Belgrade, hosts Serbia displayed an energetic performance in the final of the Olympic Qualification Tournament by defeating Puerto Rico 108-77. In the first quarter, Puerto Rico began the proceedings by scoring the first basket but a 9-0 run by the Serbians left the Caribbean side way behind. Serbia broke away yet again in the first quarter with another 15-0 run and led 24-3 before stretching their first quarter dominance to a whopping 37-7. Serbia’s assault continued with the raucous support of more than 17000 home fans and they kept scoring basket after basket to lead 60-27 at halftime. The hosts maintained their aggressive stance in the match against the listless Puerto Ricans and finished with a ruthless 108-77 victory. Shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 26 points but a huge performance came from NBA rookie Nikola Jokic, who added 23. Jokic had played for Denver Nuggets in NBA and throughout the OQT at Belgrade; the 21-year old showed an immaculate game to be aptly named as the tournament MVP.
In Turin, Croatia bagged the Olympic berth at the cost of the hosts Italy, who put up a brave resistance in their 78-84 loss that came after an overtime drama. In the first quarter, Croatia led 19-12 but Italy raised the tempo of their game to reduce the deficit to 5 points as Croatia still led 39-34 at the break. The Italians played another spirited quarter next and came within 2 points of the Croats. However, the fight was neck-to-neck in the final quarter and Italy jumped to a 68-67 lead with 2 minutes left for the buzzer. But Bojan Bogdanovic brought Croatia into the lead again. However with 5 seconds left, Italy’s Nicolo Melli tipped a basket to force extra-time. The teams continued to fight but Dario Saric and Krunoslav Simon scored 5 straight points to take Croatia out of trouble. Bojan Bogdanovic’s four free throws in the overtime made the decisive difference with buzzer finally going off. Krunoslav produced 21 points for the winners and Saric added another 18. For Italy, Marco Belinelli scored 18 and Danilo Gallinari chipped in with another 12.
With France, Serbia and Croatia securing the Olympic qualification for the Summer Games in Brazil by virtue of winning the finals of the Olympic qualification tournaments, the line-up in men’s basketball at Rio is now complete. France, USA, Venezuela, Serbia, China and Australia will feature in Group A while the Group B consists of Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Lithuania, Croatia and Nigeria.