Israel clinched the Bronze medal of the 2021 Men’s U23 European Championship from Turkey’s clutches in what was a thrilling 3rd /4th Play-Off game where the lead exchanged hands 21 times, finishing 60-59 to Israel.

There was not much between the two teams throughout the game as they went basket for basket, with neither team managing to get a real hold on the game. Israel edged the first quarter 13-12, and it wasn’t until four minutes to go in the second that they managed to open up a five-point lead, the biggest of the game. By half-time though, Turkey had pulled it back to be within one, down 27-26.

Turkey then won a high-scoring 3rd quarter, 23-19, to go into the final period up by three points. Again the teams traded baskets, and as Turkey took their biggest lead of the game with four minutes to play, leading 57-52, it looked like it could be a telling advantage. However, Israel then went on an 8-0 run, to open up a three-point lead themselves with only 25 seconds left on the clock. Murathan Atik then took Turkey to within one point, before an Israeli time-out was taken with 12 seconds left to calm any nerves and give the end-game instructions. It didn’t work, and an interception by Turkey with 7 seconds of the game remaining gave Gunaydin the last shot of the game, but the three-point attempt just fell short and Israel celebrated as the buzzer went, finishing third. The win was historic for the Israelis as this is the first time in history that Israel have qualified to participate in an U23 World Championship.

Israel’s go-to man for the tournament, Amit Vigoda, again finished top scorer with 23 points, with Radi Dagamin making 11 points. Three of the Turkish hit double figures: the captain Mücahit Günaydin (21 points and 10 rebounds), Murathan Atik (18 points), and Mahmut Açikgöz (14 points).

Vigoda commented after the game:

“It feels amazing that we are going to Chiba; forget the bronze medal, we came here as the underdog and we got a medal as well so that feels amazing, but we just went out and wanted to play. We love playing, we love our country and that’s why we are here.”

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. Spain, Germany, Israel, Turkey and France all qualified for the U23 World Championship.

Image courtesy of FIPC – Augusto Bizzi