MADRID (Reuters) - Holders the United States and hosts Spain remained on course to reach the basketball World Cup final after powering into the last eight where they were joined by France and Slovenia on Saturday.
The U.S. beat Mexico 86-63 in Barcelona to book a quarter-final meeting with Slovenia who overcame the Dominican Republic 71-61.
Spain breezed past Senegal 89-56 in Madrid to set up a clash with the French who edged out Croatia 69-64.
The remaining four last-16 games will be played on Sunday, with the Brazil v Argentina and Greece v Serbia regional derbies offering more thrills in the fiercely competitive tournament.
Fast-flowing basketball from the preliminary group stage made way for physical battles in the first knockout round, with the U.S. scoring their lowest tally of the campaign and winning by their lowest margin.
The champions were still too strong for a battling Mexican side and contained them to just 38 points in the opening three quarters before taking their foot off the gas in the final period.
“Overall, I was pleased because it’s our sixth game in eight days,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after guard Stephen Curry led the charge with 20 points.
“I am not unhappy with our team really, I wish they knew each other better but you can’t force that maturing process.”
Spain too were in control from start to finish against surprise packages Senegal as versatile center Pau Gasol capped another effervescent performance with 17 points and five rebounds against the west Africans.
Aiming to win their second world title after the 2006 triumph in Japan, the Spaniards left plenty in the tank.
“We managed to put on a very good display tonight and now we have another meeting with France,” Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro told Cadena Ser radio.
European champions France are missing their entire top echelon, including four-times NBA champion Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, and their lack of depth told in the first quarter when Croatia built a 15-7 lead.
But France fought back valiantly to cancel out a solo effort by Croatia guard Bojan Bogdanovic, the game’s top scorer with 27 points.
“We thought we were destined for great things here but it just didn’t work out for us,” Bogdanovic told Croatian media.
“This is a major failure as we never performed to the best of our abilities. Like in previous games, we dug ourselves into a hole after committing too many turnovers which the opposition punished ruthlessly.”
A 19-0 run late in the first half and early in the second helped Slovenia overpower the Dominicans after Zoran Dragic nailed 18 points for the former Yugoslav republic and his brother Goran chipped in with 12 and six rebounds.
Lithuania will be favorites against New Zealand while a more intriguing clash is likely when Turkey meet unpredictable Australia in the other last-16 games on Sunday.
Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic, Editing by Ed Osmond