The first major international wheelchair basketball competition for national teams since March 2020 got underway today (Monday 14 June) in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, as the 2021 U23 Men’s European Championship tipped off.

In the first match of day 1, current U23 European Champions Turkey opened their campaign with a 56-48 win over host Italy. Turkey controlled the game in the first half winning the 1st quarter 16-10 and the 2nd quarter 19-10. Despite a resurgence from Italy in the second half, which they won 28-21, Turkey had done enough to secure their first win of the competition. Turkey’s Mahmut Açikgöz top-scored for the game with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds whilst Lorenzo Bassoli led Italy’s scorers with 14 points.

In the second game of the day, Germany got their Europeans off to a winning start with a confident 63-41 win over Poland. A 9-0 run for Germany halfway through the opening quarter gave them a foundation which meant Poland had to chase the game. Although Poland closed the gap to 4 points at one point, Germany gradually extended their lead in the second half and finished with a commanding 22-point advantage. Poland’s Krzysztof Kozaryna was the highest point scorer with 20 points.

Germany’s top scorer and Player of the Game, Thomas Reier, said:

“We came out wanting to play as a team, that we fight together, we play hard in the defence and make good stops. In the first half we weren’t as good as we wanted, but in the second half we showed what we can do and there is still space to improve.”

The final game of the day was an overtime thriller between France and Israel. Israel clinched the victory by just one basket, 58-56, after they had come back from a 9-point deficit in the final quarter, to tie the game 51-51 and force it into overtime. France’s Manuel Gomez led all scorers with 20 points followed closely by his captain Mamady Traore who hit a double-double of 16 points and 20 rebounds. Israel’s Amit Vigoda also hit a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds.

Vigoda described the win after:

“We played with a lot of heart and passion, our love for the game and our country shone through and gave us the win in the end.”

Tomorrow (Day Two – Tuesday 15 June) will see Spain take to the court for the first time of the Championship against Poland at 10:30, Turkey will face France at 15:45, and hosts Italy will come up against Israel in the last game of the day at 18:00.

The Championship, organised by IWBF Europe and FIPIC and being run under strict COVID-19 hygiene and safety protocols, is the European Zone’s Qualification Tournament for the Men’s U23 World Championship, which is scheduled to take place in Chiba, Japan next year. The top five countries will qualify.

Image courtesy of FIPC – Augusto Bizzi