LILLE, France (Reuters) - Holders France and former double winners Spain cruised into the European basketball championship quarter-finals with emphatic victories while Latvia also emerged as big winners on Saturday.
The three nations were joined by 1987 champions Greece who destroyed Belgium 75-54.
The opening last-16 clashes produced enthralling basketball in Lille’s soccer stadium, adapted for the 24-nation tournament that doubles as an Olympic qualifier.
Roared on by a record-breaking indoor crowd of 26,135, France thrived on home support as they thumped Turkey 76-53.
A pool of talented NBA-based players made the difference with San Antonio Spurs playmaker Tony Parker pulling the strings for the French.
Twisting and turning as he dished out assists almost at will, quadruple NBA champion Parker galvanized the perimeter shooters while top scorer Nando De Colo collected 15 points in a pacy performance.
The Spaniards, aiming for a fifth successive European podium finish, recovered from a patchy group stage with a resounding 80-66 defeat of Poland on the back of 30 points by Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol.
The battling Poles held their own in the first half and early in the third quarter before Spain, champions in 2009 and 2011, pulled away.
Poland center Marcin Gortat, plying his trade for the Washington Wizards, praised counterpart Gasol.
“You can’t win a game if a guy is shooting like that,” he told www.eurobasket.org.
Yannis Bourousis buried 14 points in 20 minutes as Greece romped to victory against Belgium with a 21-3 run in the second half.
Unfancied Latvia overpowered Slovenia 73-66 thanks to 17 points from playmaker Janis Strelnieks, having also forced their rivals to take a flurry of difficult long-range shots.
Sunday’s games in the last 16 feature unbeaten Serbia against underdogs Finland, Croatia meeting Czech Republic and Italy taking on surprise packages Israel. Lithuania also lock horns with Georgia.
The tournament’s top two will clinch automatic berths for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the next five will enter three qualifying tournaments for an extra three spots.
(This version of the story was refiled to correct second last paragraph to show Sunday’s games are in last 16)
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic,; editing by Tony Jimenez