While one half of the remaining 2011 EuroBasket semifinal matches is essentially devoid of history, the Russia-France duel brings something of a rivalry in the modern era. The teams have met in three international tournaments since 1990. A brief rundown of prior meetings follows (sadly, video clips are mostly lacking, unless BallinEurope readers could suggest something…?)
• 1999 “European Basketball Championship for Men.” France wins over Russia, 66-62 in a second-round game; France would ultimately go on to place fourth in the tournament. Les Bleus brought a roster which included Antoine Rigaudeau, Tariq Abdul Wahad, Ronnie Eugene Smith (that’s Galveston, Texas-born Ronnie Eugene Smith, and yes this inclusion is dedicated to all you naturalized player haters) and Fred Weis, who is best known for – ah, let’s not go there again.
• 2003 European Championship (or The Year Lithuania Took It All). France again beat Russia, this time by a score of 76-69 and this time bouncing the Reds in the quarterfinals. With Tony Parker, Florent Pietrus, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf, this side began to resemble the French national teams of recent years. The Russian squad included its roster Andrei Kirilenko, Viktor Khryapa and Sergei Monya.
• EuroBasket 2007. In Team Russia’s miracle year, France was a stepping stone in the quarterfinals, losing to the Russian side, 75-71, in another tight one. With defense the key to the Reds’ success that year, Khryapa fitting turned in a monster 17-point, seven-rebound, six-assist performance in the game.
• EuroBasket 2009 (or The Year Spain Finally Won). Team France was bringing in a team in 2009 designed to go deep into the tournament, while Russia entered with huge holes in the shapes of Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden, heroes of the 2007 EuroBasket championship team.
The game three matchup ended in the score line of France 69, Russia 64. Diaw was huge with a 19/7/7, Turiaf scored 18 and added 14 boards, and Parker bagged four steals while having a “quiet night” of just 4-of-8 for 17 points. Russian fans, meanwhile, began their short-lived romance with Kelly McCarty.
The Reds would ultimately get things together after the first round of pool play and Les Bleus shrugged off the common widespread criticism after they’d stumbled through the Additional Qualifying Round to start with a 5-0 run in the big tournament. (How widespread were the knocks? Here’s the official FIBA website: “France has the potential to make a great run, but consistency has never been their forte.”) However, both were taken out by that tournament’s teams of destiny, Serbia and Spain.
As for the other side, FYR Macedonia fans are anticipating/fearing their team’s first-ever tournament match against Spain tonight. Since the founding of the Basketball Federation of Macedonia in 1992, this team had gone 1-5 in FIBA EuroBasket history.
Side note: Should FYR Macedonia and France face off in either match on Monday, it would mark the first occasion the sides met since June 21, 1999. In that EuroBasket, Les Bleus. France took game two of pool play over FYR Macedonia by a score of … 71-67. Macedonia ultimately finished 13th in the tournament, getting bounced after going 0-3; they’ve come, as they say, a long way, baby.
Side note to side note: Check out the roster of Team FYR Macedonia, 1999 version. Any names stand out for you there? Hint: look for the 19-year-old.
(Super short) Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ are as follows.
• Spain vs. FYR Macedonia. Really? Really? Can the dark horse be ridden this far? Surely Spain wins this one, right, even though all the pressure’s on them? Well, okay, but let’s make it a thriller: Spain 90, FYR Macedonia 86 (OT).
• France vs. Russia. Right, so the France bigwigs ostensibly got what they wanted by landing in this side of the bracket. The big question is whether it’ll pay off against the still-undefeated Russia. And also: What happens when the tournament’s highest-scoring offense meets the best defense? BiE’ll say France 66, Russia 64.
• Serbia vs. Greece. You wanna talk history? Though some of the principal players are gone, the below happened just last year … in this one, BiE says Greece 70, Serbia 63.