Yogev Ohayon 370.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel’s EuroBasket 2013 qualifying campaign reaches the point of no return on Sunday night when the national team visits Estonia in Tallinn.
The blue-and-white dropped to fourth place in Group A with a 3-3 record following its 81-76 home defeat to Montenegro on Thursday and its hopes of reaching the European Championships for an 11th straight time will be as good as over should it fall to Estonia for the second time in the 10-game campaign.
Estonia was responsible for complicating Israel’s situation in the first place when it recorded a stunning 88-86 overtime road win over the blue-andwhite to leave it in a hole it is still desperately trying to dig itself out of.
Three consecutive wins, particularly the one against Serbia, gave real hope that Israel was back on track to qualify as one of the top two teams in the group.
However, the defeat to Montenegro means that the national team’s only realistic hope of advancing to EuroBasket 2013 is as one of the four best thirdplaced teams from the six qualifying groups, and for that to happen it will need to win in Tallinn on Sunday.
“The game against Estonia is the crucial one because even had we beaten Montenegro and lost in Estonia we wouldn’t have qualified,” Israel assistant coach Oded Katash said.
“The difference Thursday’s defeat makes is that even if we win in Estonia we are not guaranteed anything.
“We have already shown in this campaign that we can get out of difficult situations and now we have a chance to prove it again.”
Israel led by as many as 17 points over Estonia when the teams met in Rishon two weeks ago, but a nervy finish cost it dearly. Estonia has since avoided any slipups against Group A’s two weakest teams Iceland and Slovakia, and will know that a win over Israel on Sunday will effectively secure it at least third place in the standings.
“The defeat to Montenegro was unpleasant, especially as we entered it feeling good after beating Serbia,” Israel forward Guy Pnini said.
“It is now clear that Sunday’s game is the most important of our campaign.
“We will be entering it as a cohesive unit, with our heads held high and with confidence because we know that a win will put us back in contention.”