After just one game, Israel already finds itself with very little room for error in Euro- Basket 2015 qualifying.
Israel faces the Netherlands in Groningen in its second qualifier on Wednesday night, desperate for a win after Sunday’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Montenegro.
The blue-and-white erased a six-point deficit in the final minute of regulation to force overtime, but dropped to a 100-97 defeat in Nicosia, Cyprus, where it was hosting the game due to the security situation.
Despite superb showings by NBA players Omri Casspi (28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) and Gal Mekel (19 points and six assists), Israel couldn’t eke out the win and a second straight defeat on Wednesday will leave it in serious trouble after only two of six qualifiers.
With Montenegro now the firm favorite to win the group, Israel’s main challenger for the runners-up position looks to be the Netherlands. The Dutch beat Bulgaria 62-53 on the road on Sunday.
The Netherlands were led by Arvin Slagter, who scored 18 points, while Nick Oudendag had 13 points and nine rebounds for the Dutch, who haven’t qualified for the European Championships since 1989.
The seven group winners, as well as the six-best second- place finishers, will advance directly to next summer’s European Championships.
Israel visits Bulgaria (August 17) and Montenegro (Aug 20) next week before finishing its campaign with two more home encounters in Cyprus against the Netherlands (Aug 24) and Bulgaria (Aug 27).
The national team left Cyprus immediately after Sunday’s game against Montenegro and spent just 15 hours in Israel before boarding its flight for Amsterdam and then embarking on the two-hour drive to Groningen.
“We were part of a great game against Montenegro,” said Israel coach Erez Edelstein.
“These types of games are decided by the small details and a lot of the small details went Montenegro’s way.”
Edelstein is hoping all the traveling will not have an adverse effect on his players ahead of the game against the Netherlands.
“The game against the Netherlands is like a Game 7 in a playoff series,” Edelstein said.
“The fact we are traveling so much isn’t easy. We will be away from Israel for the next 10 days, but this is our job.”
Israel will be the clear favorite on Wednesday, but Edelstein insisted he expects a tough game in Groningen.
“It will be difficult against the Netherlands,” he said.
“They have made strides in recent years and there are no easy games in Europe these days. Switzerland stunned Russia just earlier this week.”
Even with Israel’s first qualifier going to overtime, Edelstein stuck to a short rotation, with just seven players playing more than 10 minutes.
Casspi (42), Yotam Halperin (37), Guy Pnini (35) and D’or Fischer (33) were all on court for more than 33 minutes.
“There is no problem using 7-8 players in a game when you only play twice a week,” Edelstein explained, rejecting the criticism. “This isn’t the European Championships when you play day after day.
The players have long enough to rest in between games and the fitness coach said this is fine.”
Pnini is confident the blueand- white can kick-start its campaign on Wednesday.
“I’ve played for the national team for 10 years and I can’t remember ever being so disappointed from a defeat like after the game against Montenegro,” he said. “However, we showed that we are on the right track and if we continue this way we will record good results. The game against the Netherlands is a cup final.
We will do everything in our power to claim a win.”