Seesaw campaign has Israel in precarious spot

With three qualification games left, blue-and-white faces complicated path to advancement.

Lior Eliyahu 370 (photo credit: Estonia Basketball Association)
Lior Eliyahu 370
(photo credit: Estonia Basketball Association)
On the one hand, it is really quite simple.
Should Israel win its three remaining EuroBasket 2013 qualifiers – beginning with the game against Iceland at Nokia Arena on Wednesday night followed by the home encounter with Slovakia on Saturday and ending with the showdown on the road at Serbia next Tuesday – it will advance to an 11th straight European Championships from second place in Group A.
However, should there be no major upsets in the group, next Tuesday’s meeting in Belgrade with perennial powerhouse Serbia will be a winnertakes- all situation, and that would be a massive challenge for any team, let alone the current erratic Israel side.
A third-place finish may well also be enough to qualify for EuroBasket 2013, but only the four best third-places teams from the six groups will progress, meaning Israel finds itself in a seriously complicated situation.
Israel will already be nervously checking up on results in other groups on Wednesday, hoping that its streak of reaching the EuroBasket tournament will not be broken even should it lose to Serbia.
However, the national team will first of all need to defeat the weak Iceland and Slovakia, preferably by as big a margin as possible as basket differential could ultimately be decisive.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that Israel’s results against the bottom side in Group A will not be taken into account in the calculation as all the other groups are comprised of just five teams rather than six.
Slovakia currently edges Iceland at the bottom of Group A thanks to a superior basket differential, with both teams owning a 1-6 record.
Another factor which needs to be considered is that FIBA’s first tiebreaker between two teams with an identical win-loss record will be points-for divided by points-against, meaning for example that an 80-60 win is more valuable than a 100-80 victory.
The Israeli staff’s calculators will be working extra hard over the coming days, but the players will have to be focused on getting the job done on court, starting with Wednesday’s game against Iceland.
“There is no point in speaking about any game other than the one against Iceland,” said Omri Casspi, who is averaging 19.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in an excellent campaign.
“We need to focus on Iceland, win that game, and then win on Saturday and only then think about Serbia. It is going to be very difficult to win in Serbia.”
Israel beat Iceland 110-83 on the road two weeks ago, but coach Arik Shivek is adamant that the national team should first take care of business on Wednesday and only then take a look at results from other groups.
“I’ve already said that in a campaign like this you should never look too far ahead,” Shivek said. “This is a very long campaign and we need to focus on Iceland.
“We need to win this game by as big a margin as possible and then we can take a look at other groups and see where we stand.”