The FIBA World Cup heads into the semi-finals stage with Argentina up against France and Spain taking on Australia.
When a champion boxer or MMA fighter retires or cannot defend the belt they hold for whatever reason, a match is required to determine a new winner. In the WWE, sometimes this situation is drawn out in a series of fights, or creative bouts, such as three or four-way rumbles or in a survivor series-style competition until a new champion emerges victorious.
At the men’s FIBA World Cup in China, the title holder is out, after France removed the USA from contention by beating the reigning champions 89-79 at the quarter-finals stage. More than that, the country that many expected to be next in line for the throne, Serbia, also failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2006, at the hands of Argentina.
We need a battle royal, and the remaining countries competing for a medal will be entering a brawl, as only one of Argentina, France, Spain or Australia will leave Beijing with nothing.
Argentina vs France
Out of the remaining teams, you might expect Argentina to stand the lowest chance of finishing on the podium, and many are surprised that they have reached this stage. One person that isn’t, however, is the nation’s talisman Luis Scola.
After beating Serbia with gusto, the 39-year-old said: “I understand if you think it’s a surprise, but I don’t think that.”
There was certainly joy. But Scola simply raised a clenched fist to show his delight at making the final four of the World Cup. For the captain, he was part of that 2002 World Cup squad that lost to Yugoslavia in the final but got revenge two years later at the Olympics when Manu Ginobili hit a falling fade-away layup at the buzzer to beat their opponents in the opening round. And while the faces on the team and the name of the country has changed since then, beating Serbia will mean a lot to the ever-confident former Houston Rocket.
Throughout the tournament he is averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds, with a plus-minus of 18.3. While he isn’t close to leading the World Cup in any of those particular categories, he is leading the Argentina side in them. One area he is being edged out by a team-mate is in terms of efficiency. This is where Facundo Campazzo comes into his own. The passing wizard from Real Madrid has excited the China crowd, but he is controlling the games and leading Argentina to wins.
How they will fare against France is a wonder. The French side still has its long-established defensive identity, and with Rudy Gobert smothering all bigs who have attempted to enter the paint throughout this tournament, he is showing that his game can translate in multiple systems across different continents. His 9.7 rebounds per game slot him in at fourth place among all individuals in China, and his 2.7 offensive boards per game are often leading to easy put-back points.
There were questions over who could step up offensively for this team, but Evan Fournier has shown that the increased productivity with the Orlando Magic in recent years is helping his role as a scorer for France. In terms of leadership, Nando de Colo is supporting Fournier in the scoring and assists categories, but in a team-first culture, de Colo is the cool-headed Mr Reliable that sank a number of free throws when the USA resorted to fouling to keep themselves in the game late in the quarter-finals.
France have developed a number of go-to players and defensive system that is stopping whoever they want, especially when Gobert on the floor. Argentina has a balanced offence, with four players averaging double figures, and Scola can put the team on his back and walk through fire, which he might have to do if his country reaches the final.
Spain vs Australia
Oh boy. This is going to be fun.
The clash of styles. The deep, talented squads. The World Cup MVP candidates are going to clash.
Since the Aussies beat the USA in a warm-up game before the tournament, there has been an air of excitement around this squad. Before the World Cup, there was a lot of talk about the likes of Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden deciding not to play, but this gritty team has taken it all in their stride.
On the shoulders of big man Andrew Bogut, the Boomers have climbed throughout this tournament, beating the likes of Lithuania and France on their way to being undefeated heading into the final four.
Led in scoring by MVP candidate Patty Mills, the team backing him up has been physical on both ends of the floor, and head coach Andrew Lemanis’ decision to unleash Aron Baynes as a three-point shooting threat has caught many teams off guard.
Australia punishes you from the outside, but if you stick with the shooters, they are equally capable of banging inside with the big boys.
Spain is no pushover either. The difference between them and Australia being the panache they play with.
The Spanish side has been passing and moving the ball around to rival the Serbian team, but the likes of Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez perhaps beat Nikola Jokic and his countrymen on experience.
As a consequence, there are no high scorers on this squad, but the defence is playing well and the team is simply putting on as many points as they need to, and it doesn’t matter who is supplying them.
Each team in this contest is exactly that: a team. However, Australia has proven it has a star in Mills that can take over when the team needs a clutch shot. If it’s a close one, expect the ball to be in his hands, and you might want to bet that it goes in.