EuroBasket tips off with full schedule

The first of day of EuroBasket 2011 sees every team in the tournament take part in the opening day’s play – and the drama is already underway with wins for defending champions Spain, Serbia, Montenegro and Georgia – who defeated Belgium to record their first ever win in the tournament.

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol will be a key part of defending champions Spain’s torunament (picture:

Spain are the favourites to retain their crown, with a star-studded roster featuring a number of NBA veterans. Alongside the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, Spain will call on the ultra-talented Ricky Rubio as well as national-team fixtures Felipe Reyes, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez, as well as newly-nationalised forward Serge Ibaka. The long-serving Sergio Scariolo remains in place as head coach.

Several squads will fancy their chances of dethroning the Iberians, though. Among the strongest contenders are host nation Lithuania – who begin their tournament tonight against Great Britain, tipping off at 9pm – and Serbia, who have already dispatched Italy and are deeply laden with talent behind the outstanding Milos Teodosic.
Spain and Lithuania are together in Group A – alongside Team GB – and are likely to dominate the group. With only three teams advancing from each group in the first round, Great Britain will have to navigate their way past Turkey and Poland, two more established European basketballing nations, to advance beyond the group stage, though they should be more than a match for Portugal, the group’s other minnows.
In Group B, Serbia and France look to be automatic qualifiers. While they may struggle against the very best thanks to an apparent concentration problem (evident in their match against GB at the recent 2012 test event), France have easily enough depth and talent to get out of the group stages, while Israel, Italy and Germany – powered by NBA champion Dirk Nowitzki – will compete for the other spot in the second round. Latvia complete the group.
Perennial European powers Greece face an uncertain tournament after seeing many of their best players drift into retirement over the last couple of years. They are still favourites to advance from Group C, however, with Montenegro and Croatia likely providing the sternest tests and the other qualifiers. The group’s Balkan flavour continues in the next two strongest sides – potential surprise package Bosnia and FYR Macedonia – while Finland are the odd ones out here in more ways than one.
In Group D, there seems to be a slightly more defined pecking order. Russia and Slovenia are the strongest in the group and should ease through to the last 16. Behind them, expect Bulgaria and Ukraine to battle it out for the remaining qualification place, with Georgia and Belgium more than likely to prop up the pack.
Group games will continue late into the night tonight, with the last round of games, including GB’s encounter with Lithuania, likely to end between 11pm and midnight. The tournament’s gruelling schedule sees the entire group stage – five games for each team – run between now and September 5. The second round will begin two days later and last until September 12, with each qualifying team playing another five games in their two groups of six. From there, the top four in each group will advance to the knockout phase, with the final being held on September 18.

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