Basketball: Israel looking for big win against Belgium

Tzvika Sherf's team has already registered wins over Denmark and Ukraine, but today's game is still crucial.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Israel takes on fellow Group C leaders Belgium Wednesday night in the Eurobasket 2007 last chance tournament. Both sides will be looking to break the deadlock at the top of the group at this, the half way stage of the competition. Tzvika Sherf's team has already registered wins over Denmark and Ukraine, but today's game is still crucial if they are to qualify for the European championships: only the first placed team progresses from the group. The Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv is completely sold out ahead of the game, which the Israeli national side will hope to use to their advantage. Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Yotam Halperin paid tribute to the home fans, saying "the supporters are our secret weapon and I'm looking forward to playing with them behind us." The pundits have not been impressed with the team's first two performances of the tournament, but Halperin feels the team deserves more credit than it's currently receiving. "I think the recent criticism is unjustified," he said. "We have won all our games so far and I expect everyone to support us. It's true that we didn't convince on the offensive end [against the Ukraine], but the bottom line is that we got the job done. "A win today should work wonders for our confidence," he emphasized. "I'm very optimistic going into this game" Halperin added that he sees Meir Tapiro as the most important player on the team: "I'm sure he'll rise to the moment and help us succeed," he said. Sherf, the head coach, has had a turbulent summer due to various controversial issues surrounding his squad. Regular starter Tal Burstein pulled out of the team in bizarre fashion, refusing to elaborate on his supposed medical problems. American-Israeli Jamie Arnold also withdrew without stating a reason for his absence. Belgium should prove a tough test of how far these problems have affected Israel. They are considered to be the biggest threat in the Group C competition. Their team has a clean 2-0 record so far, including a 70-45 rout of the Ukrainians. They boast an excellent line-up of tall players, who will be looking to exploit the relatively soft Israeli frontline. The visitor's main weapon in attack is Axel Hervelle, who is currently dominating the paint like never before. The dynamic forward has averaged 20 points over his first two games and is showing no sign of stopping. The Belgian side have also proved to be a tough defensive team, allowing an average 55 points a game in this campaign. "I'm not planning any big changes in my gameplan," Tzvika Sherf revealed to The Jerusalem Post. "Things haven't gone smoothly this summer, but I believe in these players and hopefully they'll come up with the goods. "We had a couple of good practice sessions and it looks like we are ready for the upcoming challenge," he said "I'm familiar with their tactics and my players know what I expect of them. Axel [Hervelle] is a brilliant post player and Lior Eliyahu will have to guard him tightly. But unlike in the NBA, this should be a team effort and the team defense has to be solid," Sherf said. Eliyahu has become Sherf's first option in offense, but will be counted upon in the defensive end as well in order to limit Hervelle's production. Eliyahu was the main reason for Israel's successful fourth quarter against Ukraine, which resulted in an 81-73 win. The forward was Israel's top scorer with 20 points in that match. Israel will be looking for a convincing margin of victory ahead of the away leg in Brussels, scheduled for August 25. If, at the end of the group, Israel and Belgium are tied on games won, the point difference will decide the winner. The winner will then advance to a three-team contest in Madrid later in August. The winner of that contest will make it to EuroBasket 2007 to be held in Spain at the beginning of September.