Feature | Basketball

2019 FIBA World Cup final: Five things to know

The 18th FIBA World Cup final is an all-Spanish speaking affair between Spain and Argentina, who face each other in a major tournament for the first time since Rio 2016.

By Vassilis Skountis ·

Spain and Argentina will face each other in the 18th FIBA World Cup final, which ended up being an all-Spanish-speaking affair.

The team coached by Sergio Scariolo has put together its best performance since winning the title in 2006.

The Argentines, who lost to Yugoslavia in the 2002 final, are seeking their first FIBA World Cup crown since 1950.

From the 'Saitama Thriller' in 2006 to the longevity secrets of Luis Scola, here are five things you need to know ahead of the big match in Beijng, China

Ricky Rubio and Manu Ginobili during a Preliminary Round game between Spain and Argentina at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The Saitama Thriller

Although the two teams went head-to-head again in the 2010 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic tournament, arguably their most memorable encounter took place on 1 September 2006.

It was then, in Saitama, Japan, that "Lady Luck" smiled on the Spaniards.

In the closing seconds of a thrilling semi-final, injured Pau Gasol made two free throws, putting La Roja ahead, 75-74.

The game was decided on one shot in the game’s last possession by Argentinian forward Andrés Nocioni.

The ball spinned around the rim, but did not drop.

So it finished 75-74, and the Spaniards advanced to the final, where they beat Greece two days later, reaching the world summit for the first and only time to date.

Players of Spain celebrate after beating Argentina by 75-74 at the 2006 FIBA World Championship semi-finals on 1 September 1 2006 in Saitama, Japan. 

Beating the US doesn’t necessarily mean gold

The United States defeated Poland 87-74 to take seventh in the 2019 World Cup.

That was their worst position ever in the competition, where the Americans have appeared in all 18 editions from 1950 onwards.

Team USA failed to reach the top four after losing to France in the quarter-finals, and the French found themselves victims to a strange curse: the team beating the Americans does not usually win the tournament title.

More specifically, in the last nine editions of the Olympic Games and the Basketball World Cup, Team USA lost nine times to six different teams, out of which only two went on to win the gold medal.

In the 2006 World Cup in Saitama, Japan, Greece beat the United States in the semi-final, but lost the final to Spain.

In the 2004 Olympic Tournament in Athens, Greece, Team USA lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania, and Argentina, the latter going all the way to win gold.

In the 2002 World Cup on home soil (Indianapolis), the Americans were defeated by Argentina, Yugoslavia, and Spain. The Yugoslavs were crowned world champions, beating Argentina in the final.

This time in China, France will meet Australia for bronze with Serbia taking fifth place.

Argentina celebrates defeating United States in the men's basketball semifinal game during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

Scola - a gym rat at almost 40

What is the secret of an amost 40-year-old player who has left everyone speechless with his accomplishments and has a very good chance of being voted the 18th Basketball World Cup’s Most Valuable Player?

For Luis Scola, it’s all a matter of desire, character, ambition, and dedication to the game.

The leader of the Argentinian national team, who played in the Chinese Basketball Association for the last two years, has trained as intensely and as hard as possible, with his mindset on the Basketball World Cup.

In the last four months, the only player left from Argentina’s 'Golden Generation' was starting his personal fitness routine at six in the morning, supervised by three coaches and trainers, before joining his teammates in the national team’s training programme.

That certainly explains his memorable deeds in China, and justifies the “Scholar Player” definition attributed to him by French forward Nicolas Batum.

Luis Scola during the semi final match between Argentina and France oat the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China.

Little Rubio’s golden magic

Spain was crowned world champion in 2006 in Saitama, and will have another go at the throne thirteen years later.

Just two players are left from coach Pepu Hernández’s gold-medal winning squad: Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernández.

Back then, La Roja’s starting point guard Ricky Rubio was just 16. “I watched the national team win the title on TV, but I already had a gold medal of my own,” the 29-year-old Phoenix Suns guard says.

Two weeks before the men triumphed in Saitama, Rubio had led the Spanish Cadets to gold at the U16 European Championships on home soil.

In that tournament, Rubio was a player beyond imagination, working his magic with 22.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 6.5 steals per game.

He saved his best for the final, scoring 51 points and adding 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and seven steals!

Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol during the semi-finals match between Spain and Australia. 

Τango vs Flamenco in Beijing

If it was not played on the floor of Beijing’s Wukesong Sport Center, the 18th Basketball World Cup final could also be contested on the courts of Liga ACB.

The reason is simple: out of the 24 players of both finalists, 15 ply their trade in the Spanish league.

Eight of them are in Spain’s roster, with seven in Argentina’s.

"It’s impressive, but as well as we may know them, they know us too,” said Argentinian guard/forward Patricio Garino.

After the end of the latest training session for ‘El Alma Argentina’, all delegation members gathered in centre court and clapped for a good two minutes.

"After this, there’s a tango show followed by rock’n’roll," joked coach Sergio Hernández.

“We are a team that can dance and play in all rhythms.” - Argentina coach Sergio Hernández

The final will indeed be a question of rhythm.

“In older times the Spanish used to rely on the fast break, but now they like five-on-five situations more. We will try to run, as this style suits us better,” Hernández added.

Against the Argentinian tango, the Spaniards want to dance their own flamenco and add the fifth gold medal in a major tournament to their tally in 15 years of prosperity.

“Beyond talent, quality, experience, and personality, all begins and ends with the players’ commitment and dedication to the National Team. We are loyal to the team and we want to keep our flag flying high,” Spanish centre Marc Gasol pointed out.

Fans of Argentina celebrate during the semi final match between Argentina and France in Beijing, China.