Israel visits Italy in Bari in its EuroBasket 2011 qualifying opener tonight in
a game Omri Casspi believes could be nothing short of crucial to the national
team’s hopes of reaching a 10th straight European Championship.
blue-and-white will play eight qualifiers over the next month, facing Italy,
Latvia, Finland and Montenegro both home and away. Casspi, however, feels the
team can already take a massive step towards next year’s championships in
Lithuania with a victory on Monday.
“We are facing a critical game and it
is important to us all to open the campaign on the right foot,” the Sacramento
Kings forward said. “We have been drawn into a very difficult group and the
first team to win on the road will be the favorite and should eventually
The winners of the three qualifying groups and the two best
second place teams will qualify for the EuroBasket tournament automatically,
with the six best remaining sides to compete in the additional qualifying round
next summer of which the winner will earn the final spot to the European
Israel, however, will be desperate to avoid the
nerve-wrecking experience of the additional qualifying tournament and coach Arik
Shivek knows what needs to be done to claim a key road win in Bari.
believe we need to win games through defense,” Shivek said. “As soon as your
defense is better it helps your offense as well.
“The Italians will be
under huge pressure and I hope we can claim a win because it would give us a
significant advantage for the rest of the campaign.”
Italy, a traditional
powerhouse in European basketball, has struggled desperately in recent years,
hitting rock-bottom last summer when it failed to qualify for the 2009
Coach Simone Pianigiani, who has guided Siena to
four straight Italian championships, took charge following last year’s failure
and is determined to guide the team back to its former glory.
national team are guys that have fire inside,” Pianigiani said. “We will work
together to achieve the success we want.
“We have a group of young guys
who have so much enthusiasm and great motivation. I am convinced that we will
send positive values to people.
“We cannot make promises, but pledge that
we’ll give our best in order to achieve significant results as quickly as
Pianigiani has expressed his concern of having to play Israel
in the first qualifier, but is confident Italy can return to the European
Championships after missing out on the event for the first time in 48 years last
“We are in a very difficult group, but we’ll be attentive to
details because these are what make the difference,” he added. “We have a dream,
but we can realize it only through work, commitment and
Italy’s deep and balanced roster is led by two NBA players,
Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli.
Bargnani, the No. 1 draft pick in
2006, has shown consistent improvement in his four seasons as a Toronto Raptors
player, averaging 17.2 points and 6.2 rebounds for the team last
The 2.13-meter 24-year-old will be a particular nuisance for the
heightdeprived Israel roster, which, besides the rarely used Robert Rothbart,
has no player taller than 2.07m.
Belinelli joined Bargnani in Toronto
last season, averaging 7.1 points per game, and will be especially dangerous due
to his ability to score from any range.
“We are facing a very tough team,
especially when playing in front of its home fans,” Casspi said. “Bargnani is
very close to becoming an NBA superstar and we will certainly have to focus on
Belinelli is also a very good player and we will need to focus on
him, as well as on the rest of their excellent players.”
its campaign with its most promising roster in recent years.
Halperin will lead from the backcourt and Yaniv Green will be especially
important under the baskets due to the team’s lack of centers. However, the key
to success will be the play of the side’s forwards.
With Casspi, Lior
Eliyahu, David Bluthenthal, Guy Pnini and Elishay Kadir all at his disposal,
Shivek is planning on using three or even four forwards at certain stages of the
Shivek’s strategy seemed to work in the warm-up encounters and
Halperin is optimistic the team will continue to improve with every
“We are facing one of the tougher games in the campaign, but
we have prepared well and we are ready,” Halperin said. “We are talented on the
offensive end, but I’m worried about our defense. We will have to give a little
extra to win games like this. The encounter will not be decided on our offense,
but on all the small things.