Israel national team coach Erez Edelstein.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The Israel national team was mainly looking to avoid embarrassment when it was making its final preparations for EuroBasket 2015 one week ago.
However, the blue-and-white enters this weekend dreaming of Olympic qualification after securing its place in the Round of 16 with a game to spare.
The 75-73 victory over Poland on Wednesday saw Israel improve to 3-1 and guaranteed its place among the top two in the group.
While advancing to the final and booking a direct ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics still seems well out of reach for Israel, Erez Edelstein’s men certainly believe that they are capable of being one of the four teams to finish third to sixth who will advance to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
A win in the last 16 will mean the team will have two opportunities to progress to the qualifying tournament, which will take place next July, either by triumphing in the quarterfinals or by losing in the last eight and then winning its following game for 5th-6th positions.
Israel faced host and defending champion France in Montpellier for top spot in Group A late Thursday night. A win for Israel sent it to face Turkey in the Round of 16 on Saturday, while a defeat meant it will play Italy in the next round on Sunday, assuming Turkey beat the previously winless Iceland late Thursday.
If both Turkey and Israel lost, than the national team will play Spain next.
“We advanced in the best and most promising fashion,” said Israel guard Yogev Ohayon. “We are delighted and we will continue to play our beautiful basketball.”
Gal Mekel, who was rested due to a gimpy knee on Thursday, believes the blue-and-white can continue to progress in France.
“Omri [Casspi] and I always talked about how we never managed to make it past the first round of the European Championships,” said Mekel, with Israel last progressing past the first round in 2007.
“No one believed we would be able to make it out of the group phase after winning just one of eight warm-up games. We worked really hard and we want to continue and advance. This team has a special spirit and that has made the difference.”