|27 August 2012|
|'Our fate is in our hands,' Israel captain Yotam Halperin says ahead of his team's crucial home games this week |
Israel are accustomed to having to fight every inch of the way to reach the Final Round of EuroBaskets.
This summer is proving to be no exception, with Arik Shivek's men falling at Montenegro and at home to Estonia in their first two games.
The Israelis have tried to stop the bleeding, claiming back-to-back road wins at Iceland and the Slovak Republic.
But with a home game against powerhouse Serbia next on Tuesday night, Shivek's team is going to have to pull out all stops to avoid another costly home defeat.
If Israel win, they would have another hard game to follow with Montenegro on Thursday.
"Our fate is still in our hands," said Yotam Halperin, the captain of Israel.
"This is not impossible."
Israel and Serbia have met in big competitions before, most recently last year in Siauliai at the EuroBasket.
The Serbians were big favorites going into that clash but trailed midway through the fourth quarter.
With 2:28 to go, Dusan Ivkovic's team had a 77-76 lead and then killed the game off with an 8-0 run to win 89-80.
Serbia have not had a smooth start to their Qualification Round campaign themselves, losing a game at the death in Belgrade to Montenegro.
But they are 3-1, and in their last two wins, veteran center Nenad Krstic has played.
The captain missed the first two while lacking game fitness following his recovery from an ankle injury but he appears to be in good shape.
Krstic is shooting 61.1% (11 of 18) from the field and averaging 13 points after playing 18 minutes against Slovakia and 14 against Estonia.
He is a vital player for the Blues, which Israel know only too well.
It was he who started the decisive run in last year's game at the EuroBasket in Lithuania with a basket and two free-throws after Israel point guard Afik Nissim's three-point play had trimmed the Serbian lead to just one.
It bodes well for Israel that two players that will have to contend with Krstic, Alexander Tyus and Lior Eliyahu, had solid games in Levice.
Tyus made all nine of his shots from the floor and scored 18 points against Slovakia while also corralling seven rebounds and Eliyahu contributed 14 points.
"Our target was to claim two wins on this road trip and we did that very convincingly," Shivek said.
"We are facing 10 critical days if you also take into account the game at Estonia and we are hoping for a full Nokia (Arena) this week to help push us to the win."