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Israel faces a must-win game Wednesday evening in Sofia, Bulgaria, when it plays Portugal in its third qualifier for EuroBasket 2007.
The 90-87 loss to Macedonia in Skopje Sunday night complicated the national team's situation. It cannot afford to lose for a second time in a week and still have a chance to finish at the top of the group and secure a spot in the European championships.
"We are looking forward to the game," coach Tzvika Sherf said Tuesday. "We've already had a talk with the players and we have all the information about the Portuguese.
"There are four more qualifiers and we have to get the maximum out of them."
The Portuguese, who won their first two qualifiers against Macedonia at home and Bosnia away, are led by guard Miguel Minhava and forward Carlos Andrade. Both players led the team in scoring with 18 points per game and will be a constant danger. Minhava and Andrade are especially lethal from beyond the arc, scoring 12 of 16 from three-point range in the first two games.
Even though only one player on the Portuguese squad plays outside the weak local league, the team's perfect record should prevent any complacency among the Israeli players.
The Portuguese were widely considered to be the weakest team in the group before the start of the qualifiers, but following their performances in the first two games have grabbed top spot in the group.
"Portugal got an amazing result against Bosnia, but we need to win our home games even if they are played in Sofia," Israel forward Amit Tamir said. "We need to seize the initiative right from the tip-off. We can't keep giving teams a head start like we have done in our two previous games."
Israel trailed early in both of its games and despite its comeback against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the first game, it can't risk another early deficit.
The one constant in Israel's two qualifiers was the performance of Jamie Arnold. The Maccabi Tel Aviv center has averaged 25.5 points and his play against Portugal will be crucial.
Besides Arnold, no other player has played up to his potential in the first two games. Yotam Halperin is averaging 13.5 ppg, but his performances have failed to fulfill expectations that he would become Israel's next superstar.
Sherf will also be hoping for solid performances from Yaniv Green and Dror Hajaj.
On TV: Israel vs Portugal (18:30 p.m. on Channel 1).
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