GUARD GAL MEKEL in game against Serbia 370.
(photo credit: Israel Basketball Association)
Israel hosts Serbia at Nokia Arena on Tuesday night in the first of two games in
48 hours that will make or break the national team’s hopes of qualifying for
The blue-and-white has taken part in the last 10
European Championships, not missing the tournament since 1991, but its streak is
in real jeopardy after beginning the campaign with two consecutive defeats to
Montenegro and Estonia.
Israel has since rebounded with road wins over
the weak Iceland and Slovakia, but its true test arrives this week against the
two strongest teams in Group A.
The group favorite Serbia currently
trails Montenegro in the standings with a 3-1 record, with its only defeat
coming to the Montenegrins (5-0) after a mid-court buzzer-beater.
two teams from the six qualifying groups and the four best third-placed teams
will make up the 16 sides who will join Spain, France, Russia, FYR of Macedonia,
Lithuania, Greece, Great Britain and hosts Slovenia in EuroBasket
With a road game in Serbia still to come, it seems that only a
meltdown by the current group leaders will give Israel any chance of snatching a
place in the top two.
It is still too early to say what record Israel
would require to be among the four best third place finishers, especially with
the blue-and-white’s results against the team in sixth and last place in Group A
to be dropped in the calculation as all the other groups include just five
However, five wins from the campaign’s remaining six games should
be enough to book Israel’s place in the European Championships yet again,
meaning coach Arik Shivek’s men need to triumph twice this week or win in
“Serbia and Montenegro are at a different level than Iceland and
Slovakia and we will have to be fully prepared,” said forward Lior Eliyahu, who
is the team’s second highest scorer (14.3 ppg) in the campaign.
need a full Nokia to push us this week and that is not a cliche. We need five
wins from the next six games and this is going to be a very difficult
Israel and Serbia met at the European Championships last year,
with the national team losing 89-80 after giving Dusan Ivkovic’s team a run for
its money until the final minutes.
As always, the Serbs boast an enviably
deep and balanced roster, which includes the likes of former NBA center Nenad
Krstic, guard Milos Teodosic and former Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Milan
“The next few games are decisive for us,” said Omri Casspi, who
leads Israel in points (16.5 ppg) and rebounds (6.8 rpg).
returning to Nokia to play in front of our fans and we will need them.”