MADRID (Reuters) - Serbia continued their remarkable run in the basketball World Cup knockout rounds after a 90-85 win over European champions France on Friday steered them into Sunday’s final against holders United States.
The Serbs, who have secured their first World Cup podium finish as an independent nation, will head into the showdown with the U.S. under no pressure after punching well above their weight in the 24-nation tournament.
They squeezed into the last 16 from a tough preliminary group with a 2-3 record but then brushed aside more fancied Greece and Brazil before an impressive win against the French.
“It was a great match and this victory means the world to us and our fans back home,” forward Nikola Kalinic told Serbian television in a courtside interview.
”We will head into the final with our heads high and determined to play our best basketball.
“The match against the Americans will be a great experience for us. We won’t make idle threats of course but we won’t roll over either.”
An inspired performance by Milos Teodosic paved the way for the Serbs as the 27-year old playmaker nailed 24 points, 18 of them in the first half when his team built a 46-32 lead.
France headed into the clash as favorites after stunning hosts Spain in the quarter-finals but were overran in the opening 20 minutes by a fast-flowing Serbian outfit who engineered plenty of easy baskets.
Teodosic nailed seven of eight shots from the field and also dished our four telling assists converted by center Miroslav Raduljica, whose physical presence stifled an athletic French team.
France tightened their defense in the second half and cut the deficit to 84-82 with a flurry of three-pointers but Serbia held on in the closing stages, sparking loud celebrations among their fans in Madrid’s City Arena.
Five other Serbian players finished with double scoring digits to cancel out a valiant solo effort by France shooting guard Nicolas Batum, the game’s top scorer with 35 points.
“We had a great first half but in the second we suffered because a physically superior French team made life difficult for us,” Serbia coach Aleksandar Djordjevic said.
”After beating Brazil and Greece in the previous two rounds we realized just how compact a unit we really are and it was a massive confidence boost for us.
“I am really proud of my players as they exceeded all expectations,” added the 47-year old former playmaker, who won a haul of international medals with the former Yugoslavia.
France will meet Lithuania in the bronze medal game on Saturday after the Baltic nation were beaten 96-68 by the United States in the other semi-final on Thursday.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic, editing by Mark Meadows