Spain, Israel, Germany, and Turkey all secured their semi-final places at the 2021 Men’s U23 European Championship in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy.

In the opening game of the day, Israel caused an upset by defeating reigning champions Turkey, 59-46, to secure first place in Group A. Both teams started tentatively with the first points not getting put on the board until 3 minutes into the game, and the lead exchanged hands until Israel went on a mini-run to go five points up at the end of the first. A lead they then retained throughout the rest of the match, winning all four periods: 15-10, 18-14, 16-13 and 10-9.

Again, Amit Vigoda was crucial for Israel hitting a double-double of 26 points and 13 rebounds, alongside the contribution of 10 points each from Max Pekerman and Ido Maimon.

Turkey’s Mahmut Açikgöz top-scored for his team with 15 points, with Mücahit Günaydin (11 points and 14 rebounds) getting a double-double.

Player of the Game, Max Pekerman, explained what he believed was behind the win:

“The key to our game is the bench, of course, because when the bench is speaking it gives a morale boost to the team, to the players on the court, it gives them a very strong morale and that is the key to our game.”

The second game of the day saw France and Italy both looking for their first wins of the competition and to get a boost ahead of tomorrow’s crossover games.

A four-point advantage for France at the end of the first, 10-6, was extended to nine points at the half-time break, 27-18. France’s Manuel Gomez came out hot at the start of the third, hitting 10 unanswered points including two three-pointers. This gave France the breathing space they needed to put the game out of reach for the Italians, despite them rallying in the final quarter, 15-7. France got their first victory on the board, 59-39.

The French duo of Gomez (21 points) and Enzo Trabuchet (25 points) proved unstoppable making 46 of France’s 59 points between them. Amine Gamri was Italy’s top scorer with 13.

Spain secured top spot of Group B in style with a comfortable win, 71-37, over Germany. Both teams already had a win to their name in the top of the table clash, and it was a close first quarter with only one point separating the two teams, 11-10. It wasn’t until the end of the second where Spain took hold of the game going on a 7-2 run to give themselves an eight-point lead, 27-19. With momentum behind them, Spain’s confidence continued to build in the third and fourth, whilst Germany started to chase the game which impacted their shot percentage, meaning Spain took both quarters, 21-12 and 23-6.

Four Spanish Players hit double figures: Ignacio Ortega (24), Óscar Onrubia (18), Manuel Lorenzo (15), and Alejandro Garcia (10). Germany’s low percentage was reflected in the top scorers with only Alexander Budde and Thomas Reier making 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Spain’s Ignacio Ortega said:

“I’m very happy with the performances, we deserve it as a team, we’ve worked really hard; we’ve had the same team for over three European’s now and I’m happy we can finally show who we are, that we have a lot of heart, talent, and a lot of work and I’m ready for the semi-finals and hopefully finals.”

All four semi-finalists – Spain, Germany, Turkey and Israel – have automatically qualified for the Men’s U23 World Championship in Chiba, Japan next year. France, Poland, and Italy will now play in a round-robin format for the places 5-7 with the aim to claim the final qualification spot.

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