Despite a dismal 0-3 start to the European Championships, Israel coach Arik Shivek still somehow believes the national team is capable of progressing to the second round in Slovenia.

Victories over Belgium on Sunday night and against Germany in the blue-and-white’s final Group A game on Monday, combined with other results going its way, could indeed see Israel finish among the top three teams and advance to the next stage of the EuroBasket.

However, considering Israel’s desperate displays in its defeats to Great Britain (75-71), Ukraine (74-67) and France (82-63), it is hard to see quite where Shivek draws his optimism from.

“I think that the team is improving as the tournament has progressed,” said Shivek following the defeat to France on Friday night. “We are always trying to find solutions, and even though it might not always seem that way, the players really take the defeats to heart and really want to win.

“In the last EuroBasket we also began the tournament 0-3 and went on to win our final two group games, although they were insignificant,” added Shivek. “I told the players that as someone who believes in God I am thankful that our fate is still in our hands. We know that if we play well for 80 minutes we can progress.”

Israel looked to be cruising to a victory against Great Britain in its opener on Wednesday, only to hit just one of 10 free throws in the closing stages and drop to an overtime loss to a team that was regarded by many as the weakest to have qualified for the tournament.

Ukraine raced to a 13-2 lead at the start of Thursday’s encounter and although Israel came within just two points (62-60) with four minutes to play in the game, it couldn’t complete a comeback.

No one expected Israel to beat France even before its first two defeats, so it was of little surprise that the national team dug itself an early hole once more (12-3) and trailed throughout the night.

Israel’s defensive play in Ljubljana has been disappointing to say the least, but its output on offense has been truly shocking.

The blue-and-white is ranked in 20th place out of the tournaments 24 teams with a field-goal percentage of 38.4, with the team’s star Omri Casspi hitting just 23.3% of his shots.

Nevertheless, Casspi is still tied with Lior Eliyahu as Israel’s second-highest scorer with 11.0 points per game, with substitute guard Afik Nissim leading the roster with an average of 11.3 points.

“We are under a lot of pressure and that is obvious,” said Casspi. “But anyone who can’t handle the criticism, especially after the way we have played, shouldn’t be here. We have two more games left and we need to win them for our pride, whether we advance or not.”

The 25-year-old forward, who joined the Houston Rockets two months ago after two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is playing in his first EuroBasket after choosing to skip the 2009 tournament to prepare for his NBA career and being forced out of the championships two years ago through injury.

Casspi explained that his performance was initially affected by his excitement at finally taking part in the championships, but took full responsibility for the team’s poor showings.

“Had I even been mediocre we would have won our first two games,” added Casspi. “I haven’t shown up on either side of the floor and I will have to learn from this. I’m 25 and these are my first championships so I will have a chance to take part in more tournaments.”

Besides beating Belgium and Germany, Israel will need the Germans to defeat Great Britain on Sunday and for France to overcome the Belgians on Monday in order to climb up to third place and progress to the second round.

A German victory over the Brits and a France triumph versus Belgium seem quite likely, but following Israel’s start to the tournament, it is hard to see how Shivek’s side will keep its part of the deal.

“I feel that the players will be able to lift themselves in the next two games,” said Shivek. “I think that we are slowly finding our rhythm. We had a glitch in our first game and that has affected us. I have no doubt that a win on Sunday could really help us also win on Monday.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger