Win and they’re in: Men face test in Montenegro; women host Romania.
By ALLON SINAI
After an erratic, but largely impressive campaign, Israel faces Montenegro for first place in Group A in its final EuroBasket 2011 qualifier in Podgorica on Sunday night.Israel’s women’s team also has its fate in its own hands – needing a victory over Romania at Zisman Arena in Ramat Gan on Sunday evening to book its place in next summer’s European Championships.A victory against Montenegro will guarantee the men’s national team a 10th straight participation in the European Championships, but a slender defeat will likely also see the side advance, with Israel’s current point differential of +78 putting it in pole position to at least finish among the two best runners-up.However, no one on the Israel team wants to rely on favors from other groups, and coach Arik Shivek is confident his side can book its place in next summer’s championships in Lithuania without complications.“Our advantage over most teams is our athleticism, speed and versatile game,” said Shivek, whose team beat Montenegro 77-73 at Nokia Arena two weeks ago.“We made the most of our strengths against Montenegro in Tel Aviv, but we will face a tough time on Sunday. I told the players we’ve had an excellent campaign so far and we now need to end it with a victory at Montenegro.”Omri Casspi led the blue-and-white to its triumph over Montenegro almost singlehandedly, scoring 30 points, including four of seven from threepoint range.AdvertisementHowever, the Sacramento Kings forward is entering Sunday’s encounter on the back end of his worst performance of the campaign. He scored eight points – his lowest total in any of the qualifiers – on two of 10 from the field, while grabbing just three rebounds, in Israel’s 85-71 victory over Finland on Thursday.“We are facing a very difficult game because they also need to win to finish in first position,” Casspi said. “We hope to dictate our style of play on the game.We will all have to excel, the same way we would at the EuroBasket tournament.We are hoping to win or at least record a result which will secure our place in the European Championships.”Montenegro is coming off its second loss of the campaign after falling 72-71 to Italy on Thursday. However, the Montenegrins are a perfect 3-0 at home, winning by an average 19.7 points per game in Podgorica.“It will be very difficult to win in Montenegro, but that is our goal,” Israel center Yaniv Green said. “Montenegro will be desperate to win after its defeat to Italy and it will be a war. We don’t want to find ourselves needing favors from other groups, so we must win this game.”Israel’s women should have a simpler task when they host rock-bottom Romania at Zisman on Sunday.Despite Thursday’s heartbreaking double overtime defeat to Latvia, Eli Rabi’s side will be optimistic of advancing to a third straight EuroBasket tournament with a victory over the winless Romanians.“At no stage did we think we had already progressed,” said Rabi, whose team began the campaign with three straight wins before losing its last two encounters. “We prepared ourselves for a long and arduous campaign and we know it isn’t over until it’s over. Everyone understands the importance of this game and we will give everything against Romania.”