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Slovenia defending gold as Eurobasket starts

Ljubljana, 31 August - The European Basketball Championship is starting this week after a five-year break, with the Slovenian team defending the European title from Istanbul. A total of 24 teams will compete in Milan, Prague, Tbilisi and Cologne to make it to the finals that will be played in Berlin on 18 September.

Tokyo, Japan
Basketball superstar Luka Dončić.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Goran Dragić, Luka Dončić and the rest of the team made history five years ago by winning the title of European champions and because of the Covid-19 epidemic held the title longer than any team.

The 41st EuroBasket was to be held in 2021, but was delayed for a year because of the postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Slovenia, playing in Cologne and Berlin, is the top contender for gold. A survey conducted by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) among journalists gives the Slovenian team a 30% chance of winning the title again and an almost 75% chance of winning a medal.

Dončić is considered the most likely most valuable player of the championship (42% chance) and the top shooter (almost 61%).

At the last EuroBasket, Goran Dragić was the most valuable player, while Dončić was among the five top players of the championship.

Slovenia will defend the title with pretty much the same players. Guided by head coach Aleksander Sekulić, the team will comprise eight players who played in Istanbul in 2017 under Igor Kokoškov's watch.

Mike Tobey will replace Anthony Randolph, Saša Zagorac and Gašper Vidmar meanwhile ended their careers, while Matic Rebec did not make the cut. New to the team are Žiga Samar, Luka Rupnik and Zoran Dragić.

The reigning European champions are entering the EuroBasket after a crushing defeat against Germany in the second round of the second part of World Cup qualifiers this Sunday, which ended their winning strike of nine victories this summer.

At the end of June and start of July, they beat Croatia and Sweden in the qualifiers and then won all six friendly matches, including against Turkey in Istanbul, Serbia in Ljubljana, and Croatia in Celje. They also crushed Estonia in the second part of the qualifiers.

At EuroBasket, Slovenia will face some of the toughest opponents, being placed in the group B, commonly referred to as the Group of Death.

Slovenia's opening match will be against Lithuania on 1 September and after a one-day break matches with Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina will follow on 6 and 7 September. After that, the team will face Germany and France.

In the first phase of elimination, group B teams will play against group A, which consists of Montenegro, Georgia, Spain, Bulgaria, Belgium and Turkey. In the quarter finals, the best teams from group B will take on those from groups C and D.

NBA players Dončić, Dragić, and Vlatko Čančar will be the stars of this EuroBasket, which will feature as many as 35 NBA players altogether.

Fans are ready for the spectacle and about 1,500 Slovenians plan to come to the Lanxess Arena in Cologne on Thursday and even more are expected in Berlin.

The first four buses of Slovenian fans will head for northern German on Saturday, 3 September, and a day later another group will arrive by plane.

On 9 September, the documentary 2017 about the historic success of the Slovenian basketball team at the 2017 EuroBasket will be screened at the UCI Luxe cinema in Berlin. The feature-length film was directed by award-winning director, writer and basketball fan Goran Vojnović.

It highlights all stages leading to the success, including the training camp of the rejuvenated national team, its first victories, a successful start to the EuroBasket campaign and the incredible wins over Latvia and Spain as well as the epic final with Serbia. It rounds off with the euphoria that captured the nation.

The event will be hosted by the Slovenian Embassy in Berlin and the Slovenian Culture Centre Berlin, and those who would like to attend should register at sloembasy.berlin@gov.si by 5 September.

In Cologne, Slovenian fans will gather and socialise at the Papa Joe's Biersalon pub in the city centre.

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© STA, 2022