Mateusz Ponitka predicted it. “A week ago I announced that every tournament has its own Cinderella. And here we are: today we are Cinderella”, smiles the captain of the Polish basketball team. In French, we rather refer to a different fairy tale, but it seems that it is difficult to talk about Petit Poucet about a player who is 1.98 meters tall.
Still, Poland is the fairy tale of the basketball Euro, as the ever-present Ponitka (26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists) and his teammates dethroned, on Wednesday, September 14, the Slovenians, the holders of the trophy (90-87). The “white-black” (Polish for “white and red”) will face the French men’s basketball team for a place in the final on Friday, September 16 (5:15 p.m., on W9 and Canal+ 360).
Poland’s quarter-final win resulted in an earthquake, especially as it sent Slovenian Luka Doncic to the giants’ graveyard prematurely, joining the competition’s other two headliners, Serbia’s Nikola Jokić and the Greek. Giannis Antetokounmpo. If the three superstars of the NBA (North American Basketball League) produced remarkable performances in the continental tournament, their teams cut their teeth against opponents more experienced in the European games.
The Poles were convinced that they could do it. “No team that has qualified for the semi-finals is there by accident. Before the tournament, all contenders for the podium, including ours, were coach Igor Miličić insists. Few people believed us, but we did and the top four teams in Europe qualified for the semi-finals. » Or Poland, France, Germany and Spain.
Since the start of the continental competition, many players and coaches have highlighted the level of competing teams, and Poland epitomizes this extremely charged competition. “It’s an extremely strong Euro because the knockouts remain very strong teams.”, notes Vincent Collet. The coach of the French team made Serbia the number one favorite “six or seven teams capable of going all the way”. He added the Poles to the list and called theirs “remarkable defense network” against Slovenia.
“Do credit to Poland. Most saw us as favourites, but Poland have a great team, just like Belgium in the previous round.for his part, hammered Luka Doncic after his family was eliminated rather than talk about his team’s poor performance. “It’s not enough to be popular on paper, continues Vincent Collet. From Thursday, the sublimation aspect is very important. » Unlike the Italians, winners of the previous round in Serbia, his Blues came close to being eliminated in the quarter-finals.
The four teams still fighting in the competition have one thing in common: they rely on a collective, often honed over time. “These are mainly the teams that are still there. Fortunately, basketball remains a team sport and [c’est] even more [vrai] in international basketball, notes Vincent Collet. Following the example of the Spanish multi-medal technician Sergio Scariola, “the best in fifteen years in all things collective articulation”, according to the French technician.
“Team with a Capital E”
“We don’t have NBA players or Euroleague players [compétition privée et semi-fermée rassemblant 18 clubs européens], but a team with a capital Einsisted a euphoric French-Polish Aaron Cel after Poland’s win on Wednesday. We know that each player can help the other. We have been building these automations since 2014 [avec l’ancien coach, Mike Taylor]which created osmosis, a collective state of mind. A year ago we changed the coach and he added his tactical dimension. » The Slovenians are particularly difficult in the Polish defense.
While many observers predicted a “remake” of the semi-final of the Tokyo Olympics between France and Slovenia (a counter-attack victory for the French in the final seconds), it is Poland therefore standing in des Bleus’ route for a place. in the finals. And they don’t take the task lightly.
“To ask if the planets will align for us is to disrespect our adversaries.” admonishes captain Evan Fournier. These teams played the matches very well, they really dominated them. We face teams that have won and it is not said that the games are easier for us because we avoid [la Serbie ou la Slovénie] ».
The French team knows they have a small margin. Against Turkey, then against Italy, she almost found it difficult. “There is stiff competition, sums up Vincent Collet. The way we went shows that the opponents could be in our place. »
On Friday night, the Blues will do everything they can to force Poland’s Cinderella home before the hour mark.
Poland-FranceFriday 16 September (5.15pm, on W9 and Canal+ 360) and live commentary on Le Monde.fr.