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Israel got its EuroBasket 2007 last chance qualifying campaign off to a winning start on Wednesday, defeating Denmark 72-60 in Aarhus. The 12 point margin is, however, extremely misleading, with the national team shockingly poor for the first three periods of the game.
Israel led by just one point against the minnows with 10 minutes remaining in the game, but a 22-11 fourth quarter secured the comfortable win for the visitors.
Yotam Halperin led the national team with 19 points, with his Maccabi Tel Aviv team mate Lior Eliyahu adding 14 points and six rebounds.
The two youngsters performances more than made up for the disappointing display of the usually reliable Meir Tapiro who scored just four points.
Israel, which faces Ukraine in its second Group C game on Saturday at the Nokia Arena, will need to finish first in group play in order to qualify for a three-team competition in Madrid later this month.
The winner of the three-team contest will advance to the European basketball championships to be held in Spain at the beginning of September.
The Danes were the first to shake off the many months of rust and opened an early 9-4 lead. Israel tied the score with five straight points, but Andreas Jacobsen's basket gave Denmark its biggest lead of the half (15-9). Moran Rot's steal and assist to Lior Eliyahu brought the visitors within one point of the Danes, but Hanan Colman's lay-up to end the period gave the hosts a 19-16 lead after 10 minutes.
Israel seemed to be slightly more composed at the start of the second quarter and Halperin's three-pointer put the team in a three points lead, three minutes into the period.
However, it would soon be apparent that the national team's clumsy play was set to continue. A 6-0 run, which was capped by a Colman three, gave the hosts the lead once more six minutes before the interval.
Both teams failed to open a substantial lead in the remainder of the half, with Amit Tamir tying the score at 34-34 with a buzzer beating jumper.
Nicolai Iversen's field goal put the Danes up by four points (42-38), but an Israel run midway through the third quarter gave the blue-and-white a slender advantage. Eliyahu's basket with three minutes remaining in the period gave Israel a one point lead and a Halperin lay-up soon after extended the visitors margin to four points (50-46).
Peter Johansen basket from beyond the arc at the end of the third quarter cut Denmark's deficit to one point, but that would prove to be as close as the hosts would come in the latter stages of the game.
Israel began the fourth quarter with a 15-3 run, which effectively clinched the win.
A Tamir three gave the team a 57-50 lead and six straight points by Eliyahu two minutes later would give Israel an unassailable 13 point advantage (65-52).
The visitors cruised for the remainder of the game and claimed their first victory of the last chance tournament.
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