NBA Stars Ready: Croatia Begins Preparations for 2019 World Cup Qualifiers

Daniela Rogulj

The Croatia men’s basketball team continue with their qualifying games for the 2019 FIBA World Cup which will be held in China next summer.

Dražen Anzulović’s team will play in the second round of qualifiers on September 14 in Osijek against Lithuania. Three days later, Croatia will head to Gdansk to face Poland. More importantly, Croatia’s NBA stars will be available, which will certainly help get the team through the second qualification stage. However, Šarić, Bogdanović, Zubac and Žižić will not be able to play the next two cycles in November and February due to NBA obligations, reports on August 29, 2018. 

If Croatia win these two games, they would have made a massive step towards China, even though they would have four more difficult games to play with a drastically weaker composition.

“I’m glad we finally got together. It is important that we prepare ourselves physically, technically, tactically and psychologically. We will not win the game because we have four NBA players, but if we play well, and we play as a team, then their quality will come to fruition. This is a team sport,” said coach Dražen Anzulović.

Under his leadership, Croatia won the first qualifying round against Italy and Romania, and equalized Poland, Hungary and Holland in the third-place fight. On top of the group is Lithuania with 6-0, while second-placed Italy has 4-2.

“We are still alive, but we are still on the machine and far from the World Cup. I think we have to win at least four games to get into China,” Anzulović added, but does not think that the victories over Lithuania and Poland are imperative given the composition that is available.

“As long as there is a chance for placement, we will look for it. How we get there, that’s the question.”

Captain Bojan Bogdanović is fully satisfied to be with the team and more willing than ever before.

“These games are very important to us, and we will do a great job. I’m glad we are back from the NBA again and I’m sure we will be our best against Lithuania and Poland. Now that we have come to this second round it would be a real shame not to take advantage of the opportunity and not go to the World Cup,” said captain Bojan Bogdanović ahead of the preparations.

“I’m in much better condition than I was in June. This is the first summer I had to rest and work on myself in my game.”

Like other players, he is aware of Croatia’s position and the importance of the upcoming matches.

“We are in a tough situation. Each basket will mean a lot. Lithuania is already winning the World Cup and pushing us away from China. This first game is important for self-confidence and is the basis for continuing the cycle. I’m glad we will play in Osijek because the hall is always full. We have to get two victories to make it easier for us to get to China,” concluded Bogdanović.

Dario Šarić also filled his batteries this summer.

“I think I’m ready. We have 14 days to the first match. I hope I will be in 100% condition. We have achieved two very important victories in June. We have collected all of our energy. I do not know when there were four NBA players in the team last. We must give our players the right to play in November and February, give them some kind of momentum, so that with another two wins we can achieve our goal,” said Philadelphia’s power forward.

For Cleveland’s Ante Žižić, the match against Lithuania will be special, as he will debut in the senior team after missing a few of previous actions when he was called up. 

“My motivation is not missing, I came here to help as much as I can. True, China is still far away, and most importantly, there is still a chance. We are all here with the same goal of winning these two games and getting closer to the World Cup. I don’t want to promise anything, and we’ll talk on the court,” Žižić said.

Immediately after meeting in Zagreb, the team traveled to Sveti Martin na Muri, where they will prepare for the first game in Osijek. As part of the preparations, Croatia will also play two friendly matches against the current European champions, Slovenia, which will be without major players. Croatia will host Slovenia on September 5th in Varaždin, and visit Celje three days later.

Dražen Anzulović has called up: Josip Bilinovac (Cibona), Bojan Bogdanović (Indiana Pacers), Domagoj Bošnjak (Cedevita), Mate Kalajžić (Split), Jakov Mustapić, Krunoslav Šimun (Anadolu Efes), Rok Stipčević (Dinamo Sassari), Martin Junaković (Šibenik), Hrvoje Perić (Alma Trst), Ivan Ramljak (Cedevita), Dario Šarić (Philadelphia 76ers), Tomislav Zubčić (Igokea), Darko Planinić (Dinamo Sassari), Ivica Zubac (LA Lakers), Ante Toni Žižić (Cleveland Cavaliers).


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