Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola will lead Argentina in Group A of the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Thomas Coex / Agence France-Presse
Players from 2004 Olympic champion side getting old, still team to beat in Group A
BEIJING - Germany knocked Argentina out of the past two soccer World Cups.
However, it's going to be a different story in basketball as top-ranked Argentina is poised to return the favor against world No 7 Germany in the Group A opener of the FIBA World Championship, which tips off on Saturday in Kayseri, Turkey.
While Argentina's No 1 ranking can be debated, its consistency in making at least the semifinals of the past three Worlds and its 2004 Olympic gold medal support the claim.
Argentina should have no trouble winning the group, but it will definitely be challenged in the knockout stage as its magical generation is running out of gas.
The core of the team that finished second at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was fourth at the 2006 World Championships in Japan and won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games is slowly losing its key pieces - from Ruben Magnano through to Pepe Sanchez and Manu Ginobili.
Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni now compose the base of the team and all of them are almost 30 years of age or older.
During its warm-up matches, Argentina lost to world champion Spain and beat Brazil and Canada.
The team still has some stars but struggles when they take a rest on the bench.
When Scola is out, the team has no post scoring. Paolo Quinteros is the backup behind Prigioni and he's not strong.
Delfino is the only player on the team that can force his way to the basket.
It also lost Juan Pablo Cantero, who was forced to withdraw with a torn hamstring suffered in training.
Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez chose Luis Cequeira to replace Cantero.
"(Cequeira) was a key part of the team at the South American Championship and he knows the offensive and defensive systems of the team," Hernandez said. "I think this is the best option because he is at the optimum level in terms of physicality and maturity."
Other teams in the group include African champion Angola (ranked 12th), Australia (11), Jordan (38) and Serbia (five). Australia and Serbia were in Germany's pool for soccer, too. The Serbs upset the Germans at the World Cup. The two will collide on the basketball hardwood in the second game, while Serbia has Argentina in the last group match.
Germany will not bring Dirk Nowitzki to Turkey, so someone else will need to step up and pick up the scoring load.
For Australia, the first target is to make it to the knockout stage. That should be achieved as it is a much stronger side than Angola and Jordan and two victories should be enough to see the Boomers through.
If Patty Mills can perform like he did at the 2008 Olympics, when he went toe-to-toe with Chris Paul, then Australia can be dangerous in Group A, too.
Serbia also has the ambition and the talent to win the group.
Its strength was well tested after winning the adidas Cup earlier this month after beating World Championship host Turkey, New Zealand and Iran. Its hot form continued this week with 89-53 and 115-77 thrashing of China in two games.
But it might suffer a blow as FIBA, the sport's governing body, is yet to impose punishment on some of its players involved in an ugly brawl during the friendly against Greece last week. That has forced Serbia to delay the announcement of its 12-member squad.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Nenad Krstic, who threw a chair that struck Greek big man Ioannis Bourousis and ended up spending the night in an Athens jail, might receive at least a two-game suspension. Serbian guard Milos Teodosic and Greek bigs Antonis Fotsis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis are also likely to receive some form of punishment.
(China Daily 08/25/2010 page23)