No room for error before Serb showdown

Israel hosts Slovakia in its final home game of EuroBasket 2013 qualification, but focus shifts to Serbia.

Israel EuroBasket (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel EuroBasket
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel hosts Slovakia in its final home game of EuroBasket 2013 qualification on Saturday night, but everyone’s focus has already long shifted to next Tuesday’s showdown against Serbia in Belgrade.
After defeating Slovakia by 16 points on the road two weeks ago, the national team will be confident of claiming another comfortable win on Saturday ahead of its 10th and final qualifier in Serbia.
The winner of that encounter will finish in second place in Group A and secure automatic qualification for the European Championships.
The blue-and-white beat Iceland 92-75 on Wednesday to improve to a 5-3 record and take a stranglehold of third position in the group.
A win against Slovakia will guarantee Israel at least a third place finish, and even should the national team lose in Serbia, it will be well positioned to be among the best four third-placed finishers from the six qualifying groups which will also advance to next summer’s championships in Slovenia.
Israel is already all but certain to finish ahead of the team which will end Group C in third (Austria or Hungary), but it will need results in other groups to go its way as well, specifically Group B in which Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Sweden are battling for second and third positions, to ensure it qualifies from third place.
"We are thinking about the game against Serbia all the time,” admitted veteran center Ido Kozikaro, who scored eight points off the bench against Iceland, more than doubling his contribution in the qualifying campaign until that stage.
"But we know that before we face Serbia we have a game against Slovakia which we can’t afford to lose.” Raviv Limonad was also one of the main benefactors from coach Arik Shivek’s decision to go deep into his bench against the Icelanders, playing a campaign high 27 minutes.
"It is difficult to come out fighting for a game against Iceland, but we eventually managed to get the win and we need to do the same against Slovakia,” Limonad said. “We are trying to take one game at a time and not look too far ahead. We will first beat Slovakia and then we will know far better where we stand ahead of the game at Serbia.”