The last qualifying match for the 2022 EuroBasket was played without a decisive result on Monday. Recall, Croatia entered the last cycle undefeated, with four victories and an already secured spot at the European Championship. Even with a final two defeats against the Netherlands on Saturday and Turkey on Monday, Croatia still remained on top in its qualifying group.
Croatia v Turkey
The game’s first points went to Shane Larkin, who hit two free throws, while Željko Šakić scored Croatia’s first basket for 2:2. However, with Ugriclu’s three-pointer and Haltali’s dunk, Turkey took the lead at 7:4. Marčinković’s first basket kept Croatia in the game (7:6), and Drežnjak gave Croatia the 8:7 lead. Croatia then led 10:7 with a 6:0 series, but Turkey returned to finish the first quarter at 21:21.
Four minutes into the second quarter, the score was 27:27. After Turkey led 33:29, coach Mršić asked for a time-out and demanded that his team raise the intensity. Gabrić made it 32:32 with a shot from outside. However, at the end of the first half, Turkey gained 6 points (42:36), and coach Mršić called on his players to be serious and pick up their aggression, which helped Croatia reduce Turkey’s lead to 40:42.
Goran Filipović, who recorded his debut performance for the senior national team in this cycle, played an excellent attacking game, and at a critical moment, hit one long-range three-pointer for 49:50. Sakić’s three-pointer and Antonio Vrankovic gave Croatia the 56:54 lead. The last quarter began with Croatia up 65:62 after Mustapić’s three-pointer.
A three-pointer by Gabrić resulted in Croatia’s biggest lead of 6 points (68:62). Seven minutes before the end of the game, Mršić returned the core players, Bilan and Šakić, to the game, though with Shane Larkin back in, Turkey led 72:70. Larkin scored a three-pointer for 79:75 but luckily missed a free throw. Twenty-six seconds before the end of the game, Turkey was up by 6 points, and the game ended 78:84 for Turkey.
Tomislav Gabrić was the best for Croatia with 13 points, Miro Bilan and Goran Filipović added 12 points each, and Željko Šakić and Antonio Vranković added 10 points each.
Željko Šakić, captain of the national team in this cycle: “I am pleased that we have brought this to an end. We knew this was not going to be an easy group. We knew we would have to fight for every victory. Unfortunately, in these last two games, we did not have the strength to win, but you must know that not a single Euroleague player played for us, that there are local guys, and I am proud of them because they did their best. You also have to know that we don’t have foreigners and that’s it. That is Croatia.”
Goran Filipović made his debut for the senior national team in this qualification cycle: “I think we played somewhat better offensively than in the last game against the Netherlands. Unfortunately, that was not enough today, and I think Turkey is a more organized team than the Netherlands. We can be proud, we fought, and what is important is that we have already qualified for EuroBasket.”
Antonio Vranković scored 10 points with 100% accuracy: “We fought. We made a game plan and stuck to it. Unfortunately, we lost in the end, but Turkey deservedly won. They were stronger today, and we move on. We qualified, we are first in the group, and that’s great.”
Coach Veljko Mršić is satisfied with what the national team showed: “It was a very good and competitive match between the two teams. The result was not important, but we had to play the game at a good level and with high intensity. We saw that Turkey wanted revenge for that defeat in the previous cycle, and we also saw that our team didn’t want to allow it. They had Larkin in the plan for just one quarter, but we saw how he played to beat us on one or two possessions. I’m happy with this team, and we came here without four important players in the previous two windows. But we also realized that we have a slightly wider base, that we are a real team and everyone enjoys playing for the national team. It looked much better than the first game against the Netherlands, which is normal – there were debutants, without preparations and friendly matches. But all the players who deserved the invitation are there. Above all, I congratulate them on their placement in the European Championship and on how they played with the national team.”
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