France first to advance to Second Round, Montenegro hit Hungarian detour

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MUNICH (Germany) – Despite a valiant effort by Portugal, France became the first team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers to secure a spot in the Second Round after completing the Portuguese double to move to a perfect 4-0 record in Group E. 

Having registered a 38-point point win against Portugal in France, Les Bleus faced a completely different challenge on the road. It took some fourth-quarter heroics for the French to set the final score at 69-56.

“Congratulations to Portugal for reacting the right way after a tough loss on Friday,” French playcaller Vincent Collet respected the way the group underdogs bounced back.

Portuguese players and coaching staff spoke about France’s physicality after the first game, so they matched it on Sunday, forcing an abysmal 27 turnovers from the Olympic Finalists.

So why wasn’t this a much closer game then?

Because Portugal turned the ball over 26 times themselves, and France ended up winning the points from turnovers by five. Once the French defense started working, allowing just 8 points in the third quarter, it was time for a new star to step up offensively.

Sylvain Francisco has been a revelation for BAXI Manresa in the Basketball Champions League, having started out on a try-out, and continued that fine form by scoring 15 points in an important game for the national team.

“We were better in the second half and we matched their aggressiveness, our defense stopped them in the third quarter and we found a few open shots and Francisco made three in a row,” Collet said.

The top scorer was another BCL face, Pinar Karsiyaka’s Amath M’Baye with 16 points off the bench.

“They gave us a fight the whole game, I got nothing but respect for them. I am proud of how we responded, it took us a while to get going but eventually, we responded the right way,” M’Baye explained.

France remain perfect, and at 4-0 they became the first team to advance to the Second Round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers. However, their job is far from done in the First Round with all results carrying over to the Second Round and impacting their chances of qualifying for the World Cup.

Montenegro could’ve been the second team to advance from Group E this window and were probably expected to do so, given the fact they defeated Hungary by 16 on the road on Friday. However, Montenegro couldn’t deliver.

“We are always going, how do you say okolnim putem? The tougher way,” coach Bosko Radovic said with an exhausted breath after the game, getting a gray hair or two after an 88-84 defeat.

The detour would’ve been a more precise way of translating his phrase. Instead of booking the Second Round tickets with a sweep over Hungary in front of the home crowd in Podgorica, Montenegro now have to face the last two games at 2-2. 

“We didn’t deserve to win this game. Defensively we were very bad, we started the fourth quarter tied at 59, and then allowed them 29 points in the final quarter, at our home. 17 turnovers, missed 9 free throws, you cannot win the game in these circumstances,” Radovic added.

Another Montenegrin coach got to celebrate a win. Stojan Ivkovic has been in Hungary for the last 30 years, but grew up in Kotor and started his professional career with Buducnost in Podgorica way back in the early 1980s.

He maintained a serious face after the game. Until the last sentence happened:

“I’m very happy because now from this Balkan region, the only country we couldn’t beat was Serbia,” Ivkovic was proud of the Hungarian rise over the last nine years, since he became the head coach.

The one-two punch of David Vojvoda and Zoltan Perl combined for 43 points and 8 assists on the night, Vojvoda as the opener, Perl as the closer.

“We made some changes after the first game, both in defense and offense, and it worked really well. We fought from the first minute to the last, we deserved the win,” Perl offered.

Both Hungary and Montenegro will face Portugal and France in the last Window. Both of them still depend on themselves, one win would send them through, but with all the results being carried over to the Second Round, both of them will try and go 2-0.