Eight out of the sixteen teams have advanced at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup completing the first round with a sweep, carrying a perfect 3-0 record to the second round and topping their respective groups: Argentina and Poland (Group I, Foshan), Serbia and Spain (Group J, Wuhan), the United States and Brazil (Group K, Shenzhen), and France and Australia (Group L, Nanjing).
The top two teams from these new groups will advance to the quarter-finals, with a chance to take the Silk Road all the way to Beijing, where the World Cup’s curtain will fall on Sunday 15 September.
Argentina, Poland, Serbia and Spain have already confirmed their berths in the last eight after winning their respective games on the opening day of the second round.
Four of the national teams that made the round of 16 have been crowned world champions in the past: five-time defending champions United States (1954, 1986, 1994, 2010, and 2014), Brazil (1959 and 1963), Argentina (1950) and Spain (2006). Serbia, runners-up in 2014, were once part of Yugoslavia, a country with five gold medals in its tally (1970, 1978, 1990, 1998, and 2002).
Czech Republic: a lovely Cinderella
Cinderella did not miss the FIBA Basketball World Cup ball, thanks to the Czech national team qualifying for the second round.
Despite the absence of dominating centre Jan Veselý, the heirs of the great Czechoslovakian basketball school, led by Chicago Bulls guard Tomáš Satoranský, defeated Turkey and advanced to the World Cup’s final 16.
It is the first time the Czech Republic participated in FIBA Basketball World Cup competition. The Czechs were seventh in the European Championship held in France four years ago, and did not even advance to the final stage in Turkey in 2017, finishing a humble 20th.
All eyes on Giannis
In round two, all eyes in the basketball planet are on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reason is obvious, as the NBA regular season MVP and Best Male Athlete of the Year faces the United States National Team for the first time in his career. Team USA features eleven of his usual NBA opponents, plus a Milwaukee Bucks teammate in All-Star Khris Middleton.
The Greek Freak, who has been competing in the NBA since 2013, is off a magic season, in which he was, among others, the East’s team selector and captain in the Charlotte All-Star Game. He has also led the Bucks to the best regular season record in the league and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 18 years.
Greece was the last team to beat the United States in an official game, counting from the introduction of NBA players in international competition. This happened on 1 September 2006, in Saitama, Japan (101-95).
“I will be the next one to beat you”
After their defeat to Greece in the FIBA Basketball World Cup semi-finals in 2006 in Saitama, the Americans have never looked back, recording 78 straight wins and winning gold medals in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Games and in the 2010 and 2014 World Championships.
On 23 August, Team USA was beaten by Australia in an exhibition game, then came up with three wins in the first round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 before the rematch with Greece.
Out of the blue, on 25 June 2017, Giannis Antetokounmpo had thrown down the gauntlet to Greece’s next opponents:
“In 2006, I was watching the game in my home in Sepolia, Athens, absolutely mesmerised by Sophocles Schortsanitis’s performance. From then on, it has always been on my mind to beat Team USA, and I often say to my Bucks teammates: ‘I will be the next one to beat you. I’ll get you somewhere and write history again,’” the 25-year-old NBA MVP had said.
Now, the time has come for him to try to make his bold statement come true.
The Serbian National Team has looked incredibly strong so far as well.
In their first game of the FIBA World Cup 2019 second round, the 2014 World Cup, 2016 Olympic Tournament, and 2017 European Championship finalists overwhelmed Puerto Rico, 90-47, to continue their unbeaten streak.
The Serbs have won their first four games by an average of 40.7 points, better than even the record margin set by Team USA in the 1994 FIBA World Cup held in Toronto, Canada.
Back then, the American team included superstars such as Shaquille O’ Neal, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp, Mark Price, and Dan Majerle. In that tournament, Team USA won the gold medal after eight victories in as many games, averaging a 37.7-point margin.