Close battle expected between surprise FIBA World Cup finalists
Aron Baynes (R) of Australia in action against Marc Gasol (L) of Spain during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinals in Beijing, China, on Sept. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL
Ricky Rubio of Spain (R) in action against Matthew Dellavedova of Australia during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 semifinals in Beijing, China, on Sept. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY
Argentine players Nicolas Laprovittola (L) and Facundo Campazzo (R) celebrate after defeating France in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinals in Beijing, China, on Sept. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY
Luis Scola (2-L) of Argentina in action against Nicolas Batum (L) of France during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinal in Beijing, China, on Sept. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL
Beijing, Sep 14 (efe-epa).- Argentina and Spain will face off on Sunday at Beijing's Wukesong Sport Arena for the FIBA Basketball World Cup title, a clash between two surprise finalists that many expect will decided by the slimmest of margins.
Although neither team was among the favorites when the tournament kicked off late last month, both have earned the right to dream of a second championship thanks to their defensive effort and competitive mettle.
Argentina will be seeking their first title since the inaugural basketball world championships that they hosted in 1950, while Spain's lone gold medal came at the 2006 tournament in Japan.
Both teams come into the final undefeated through seven games in China and full of confidence, having improved over the course of the event.
Argentina knocked out Serbia, one of the tournament favorites, in the quarterfinals and then scored a surprisingly comfortably 80-66 win over the powerful French national side in Friday's semifinals.
On their way to the final, Spain also prevailed also over Serbia in the round-robin phase and then needed double overtime to overcome Australia 95-88 in the semifinals.
Two players have stood out for the Argentine national team: 39-year-old Luis Scola, who has turned back the clock at this event and managed to tally a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds against France; and diminutive point guard Facundo Campazzo, a star for Real Madrid who is the orchestrator of his team's offense.
One of the key match-ups in the final will be Campazzo versus Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, one of several Spanish players with years of experience in the NBA.
Rubio and Marc Gasol, an important role player for the 2018-2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, are Spain's biggest weapons. Both have delivered in the clutch and provided key leadership, with Gasol coming to his team's rescue with a 33-point effort in their hard-fought semifinal victory.
The head coach of the Spanish national team, Sergio Scariolo, said of Argentina that they have not reached the final by chance but thanks to their "determination, character, defensive strength and terrific optimization of their offensive tools."
He added that he has great respect for Argentina "both individually and collectively" and has told his players to expect an extremely hard-fought final, with difficult moments to overcome and likely a down-to-the-wire finish.
For his part, Argentine head coach Sergio Hernandez said Spain will prefer not to get out and run with his men and instead try to impose their size in the half-court game, adding that his players will need to use their speed and aggressiveness to push the pace. EFE-EPA