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ROME – Italy’s dream at the Basketball World Cup was extinguished in the quarter-finals against the extraterrestrial United States, but our national team still gave us some extraordinary moments and an exciting and heart-pounding tournament. Hardly any sports betting enthusiast would have bet on a similar result obtained by the Azzurri. Reliving the salient moments of Pozzecco’s team and in particular the final phases of the event, we must start from the first phase which ended with the great victory against the hosts from the Philippines, which gave us second place in group A of the Cup of FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023 and the consequent access to the second phase. The first place in group A was the undefeated Dominican Republic. At the end of the second phase, which ended with a 73 to 57 against Puerto Rico, the Italian national team managed to qualify for the quarter-finals and therefore enter the top 8 in the world. Regardless of the final outcome, this remains a historic result, which has been missing in our area since 1998, when in Greece we managed to achieve the same objective.
The match against the United States
The dream of the Pozzecco team was shattered, just like in 1998, by the United States, who with a resounding 100-63 knocked us out of the competition. The match started going on the right track, because after 5 minutes of play the result was 8-7 for the Azzurri, who had managed to do an excellent job with the plays of Melli and Tonut. Then came four unstoppable triples, first from Brunson, then from Haliburton, then from Ingram and finally from Reaves. The first ten minutes ended with a rather important gap, which saw the Americans establish a 24-10 lead. As time went by, the gap increased more and more and the errors, on an evidently unlucky day, were many, so much so that from the point of view of the triples during the long break we saw ourselves with a 2/19 compared to the 7/19 of the US. If the goal of the United States was to erase the heavy defeat against Lithuania as soon as possible, the goal was achieved with great merit and success. By the time the half-match siren sounded, the Azzurri found themselves with a 22-point deficit, which then became 37 at the stroke of the 40th minute. The most awaited player of our team, Paolo Banchero, was unable to score more than 8 points and this is a real shame. Probably with a more fortunate pairing we would have been able to do our best to even reach the semi-final, but this World Cup, despite the resounding defeat suffered against the Americans, has shown that there is a solid base from which we can start again and on which we can work. The solid group, made up of Melli, Spissu, Tonut, Fontecchio, Ricci and Polonara, and the many young prospects give the Italian fans hope.
The match against Latvia
With the exit in the quarter-finals, Italy at least for the moment has played out the possibility of participating in the 2024 Olympic Games, but in reality there still remains a hope: the Pre-Olympic. It is a tournament made up of six teams where one and only result will be needed to participate in the Olympics: coming first. The defeat against Latvia 87-82 condemned the Azzurri to another match against Slovenia to decide the final placement in the tournament: seventh or eighth. With Fontecchio’s heavy absence, Pozzecco decided to bet everything on the captain, Datome, and on the quartet made up of Melli, Spissu, Tonut and Polonara. The first quarter of the match is decided by Datome himself, who becomes the protagonist and leads the Italian national team to a lead that even reaches double figures. At the end of the period, Smits’ triple closes the gap and brings the score to 26-18. In the second quarter Grazulis, Kurucs and Strautins literally drag Latvia, who at the halfway point of the match find themselves ahead 46-42. From the third quarter onwards, Pozzecco’s team shows several gaps in their ball handling, while Banchi’s team seems to be more fluid in their maneuvering. Despite this, until the end of the last quarter, Italy, which tries to hold on to Datome, remains in the game, but an extraordinary Grazulis, author of 28 points, knocks out the Azzurri and leads Latvia to an 87-victory 82.
The match against Slovenia
The last match of the World Cup, to establish seventh or eighth place for the Azzurri, was also the last match for Datome, who had now officially become a former player. Pozzecco and his players were not able to bid the Captain farewell in the best possible way, because our national team also had to surrender to the Slovenians, leaving the field defeated with a score of 89-85. In the tournament, and also in this last outing, there was a lack of luck, which did not allow Italy to complete a comeback in the final that had almost been completed in the last quarter. Among the most positive notes is undoubtedly the performance of Spissu, who during the match scored 22 points and an important 6/11 from beyond the arc. The man of the match, however, is on the side of the Slovenian national team, who was able to count on a monster like Doncic, author of 29 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Pozzecco kept the usual quintet and started with Fontecchio, Polonara, Melli, Spissu and Tonut, therefore leaving Datome initially on the bench. The first quarter ends 18-15 for the Azzurri, who take advantage of a rather soft approach from the Slovenians, kept alive only by Doncic’s exploits. Having re-established a level playing field during the second quarter, the baskets in a row by Tonut, Spissu and Procida put the Azzurri back ahead by 5 points at 31-26, but the usually irrepressible Doncic turns the situation around and, thanks to Pajola’s final triple , it goes to 42-41 for Slovenia. The third quarter turns out to be very difficult for Italy, Spissu’s long range basket is answered by Doncic’s, before the last quarter the score is 70-60 in favor of the Slovenian selection. The last quarter turned out to be heart-pounding, because Slovenia had an empty pass in the first few minutes and the Azzurri intelligently took advantage of it, managing to bring the game to a draw at 76-76. Three minutes from the end, Datome gets a well-deserved standing ovation from his teammates and the Mall of Asia Arena, then Spissu and Ricci sign the sensational momentary overtaking at 85-83. The ending is bitter for Pozzecco’s team, which suffers a counter-overtaking with Cebasek’s triple and Fontecchio’s final errors, which condemn Italy to an 89-85 defeat.
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