|15 September 2011|
By Yarone Arbel
|EuroBasket 2007 - Spain host the tournament and have a fantastic team which includes Pau Gasol yet, against all odds, Andrei Kirilenko and Russia leave Madrid with the gold medal in their luggage |
F.Y.R. of Macedonia's upset over Lithuania in the quarter-finals of EuroBasket 2011 could go down in the history books as the biggest and loudest upset in the history of the games.
Powerhouses that hosted the event were hit in the past, even in earlier stages, yet by another powerhouse.
Underdogs came out of nowhere and some even stepped on the top spot of the podium, something F.Y.R. of Macedonia haven't done yet, but as a specific single game upset there has probably never been such a shocking result.
The loss of Lithuania proved once again that hosting the event can make you or break you.
Teams either use the great push from the fans to reach new highs or collapse under the pressure.
Very few finish the championship with "just OK" results.
With the help of legendary journalist Vladimir Stankovic, who has covered more EuroBasket tournaments than any other reporter in Lithuania, we went for a historical walk.
Sure, there were here and there huge upsets in a single game in early rounds, but this is the list of some of the biggest upsets in the history of the games, as single games or tournament performances that created the biggest noise.
Some of these teams never got close again to such a big achievement.
For others, it totally changed the future of basketball and turned them into powerhouses.
Where will F.Y.R. of Macedonia go? We'll have to wait and see.
Back in the day Hungary were a powerhouse who had won silver in 1953 and bronze in 1946, and hosting the event created a great chance for them to register an upset.
Yet even if you were a powerhouse, topping the USSR was almost impossible. Actually this was the only title the USSR lost between 1951 and 1971. Back in those days there was no 'title game' and in order to be crowned champions, a team had to win a group of eight.
Nevertheless an 82-68 victory over the USSR was the one that gave Hungary a historical title in front of their fans, who saw it as more than just a game, as exactly one year later the Hungarian Revolution started. Coincidence or not, since that day Hungary never defeated the USSR again.
Yes, there was a time in which a silver medal by Yugoslavia was a big shock. 2011 is actually the 50th anniversary of the rise of Yugoslavian basketball. Until then, in five championships, they had finished no higher than 6th, but in 1961, yes in Belgrade in front of fanatic fans, they shocked and reached further than before. Two legends, in Ivo Daneu and Radivoj Korac carried their team to the title game, were they lost to the USSR of course. Yet since that day basketball and Yugoslavia went hand in hand.
Yet another host that made the great is Spain. Nowadays they hardly miss the semi-finals but it wasn't always this way. Other than silver in 1935, the very first EuroBasket, Spain never made the top 4 and just six years before finished 10th.
One day in October 1973 changed everything and Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez owe part of their career to that day. Spain, the host of the European Championship that year, faced the USSR in the semi-finals.
The Soviets arrived to the game after winning the last eight European Championships without dropping a single game for 59 encounters in a row. That's why their shocking win over the USSR was such a huge upset. Wayne Brabender, Clifford Luyk and Vincente Ramos led Spain to an unheard of 80-76 victory that pushed the world of basketball in Spain.
True, Real Madrid won European titles before that, but as a national team there was a huge chance. Since then Spain is a member of the top teams in every EuroBasket as they never finished, but once, below the sixth place.
Israel didn't win gold, only silver medal in EuroBasket 1979, but losing in the title game to the USSR back in those days was almost like winning the gold if you weren't Yugoslavia. Israel never came close to winning a medal before or after that. Actually they have made the quarters only three times since then, in over 32 years. That run included one of the biggest upsets in the history of the games, one that can be compared to the EuroBasket 2011 quarter-final, as Israel shocked the great Yugoslavia, the World Champions back then, with a 77-76 win behind a Mickey Berkovic winning shot, as usual. That win eventually got them the spot in the final game.
The Netherlands, 1983
The podium of 1983 featured Italy, Spain and the USSR, yet the team that lost the bronze medal game was none other than...the Netherlands. No young Rik Smits on the team if you were wondering. Not even Kees Akerboom. A list of 12 players who somehow sneaked into the semi-finals. They bettered Germany, Israel, Poland and Czechoslovakia and made their best performance ever since 1949.
Nobody expected Greece to do anything great in the EuroBasket they hosted in 1987. Until then no Greek club had any say in the European Competitions and the national team never really came close to the semi-finals (other than a bronze medal in 1949). Out of nowhere, Nikos Galis and Panagiotis Yannakis led the Greek team to the gold medal and shocked the mighty USSR in the title game, 103-101 after overtime.
Another story of a hosting team that used the event to do the unheard of. These were pre-Dirk days obviously. Germany reached the top eight between 1983-1987 three times in a row, after failing to do so in their first eight EuroBasket performances, but missed the 1989 and 1991 events. On top of that Germany's biggest player back then, an NBA caliber in Detlef Schrempf, wasn't on the squad. Out of nowhere the team of Christian Welp, Michael Koch, Henrik Rodl, Stephan Baeck, Henning Harnisch and big guy Hansi Gnad beat Spain in the quarters, Greece in the semis and Russia in the finals in a total margin of six points. True, they enjoyed the absence of Yugoslavia from the competition, the only title Yugoslavia didn't win between 1989 and 1999, while Lithuania didn't play as well and Russia were just re-building their new face, but nobody expected Germany to be the one to take advantage of that, and they did it fair and square. In the next two EuroBaskets Germany went 10th and 12th.
Serbia & Montenegro, 2005
There's only one game that can compete for the title of the most shocking result with the upset produced by F.Y.R. of Macedonia. A result that went through an entire country unexpectedly and left people shattered and broken. That thing can happen only in the other country that fights Lithuania for the title of the "Country of Basketball" - Serbia. In 2005 the Serbs hosted the event and were ready to take back the title they'd lost to... Lithuania two years before. The coach was Zeljko Obradovic. Among the players there were Dejan Bodiroga, Zeljko Rebraca, Igor Rakocevic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marko Jaric and so on. Yet Serbia & Montenegro finished that run even before the Final Round with a shocking 71-74 loss to France in front of the eyes of a whole country. The unforgettable concert of Coach Obradovic at the press conference following the loss was one of the strongest memories of the championship. France is still a powerhouse, which differs this game from F.Y.R. of Macedonia's win, yet the shock, the agony of a whole basketball country and the magnitude of that loss were as close as it can be.
If you were brave enough to consider Russia as a title contender before EuroBasket 2007 you would have been laughed at. Since 1997 they hadn't made the semi-finals, yet they were always around, losing the quarters time after time. Coach David Blatt took over and brought the right winning spirit. Russia shocked in three nights, including an unforgettable winning bucket of J.R. Holden right before the buzzer to give them that one extra point to win the title against hosts Spain.