The Quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympic Games Basketball tournament were locked on Monday evening. As we reported yesterday, the closing of contest in Group B ended a frantic and hugely entertaining group stage. Eight teams proved themselves over the first week and were rewarded with a berth in the final eight.
Now that the tournament moves into knock-out play, every play and every point counts. Mistakes can result in elimination. With the best eight nations in men’s Basketball lined up, the new week of action promises to be amazing for global hoops fans.
However, with the Quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympic Games tipping off on Wednesday, how are the teams doing and what are the interesting match ups. In this preview we will see which nations are best placed to make it to the final four of the competition.
USA vs. Argentina – South American giant Argentina got the draw that no team wanted. The USA are runaway favourites for the gold medal for a reason. The US has been typically untouchable while sweeping Group A with an untouched 5-0 record, the only unbeaten run in the tournament. The country has won 14 out of 18 Olympic tournaments and is the defending champion after winning Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
It is perhaps interesting that France and Australia run the USA close in their respective Group A clashes. Perhaps the champs have more gears to move into, but those two games at least showed that the US is vulnerable on occasion.
However, Argentina was the last nation to win gold that was not the USA, the historic victory in Athens in 2004. That championship winning team is still largely intact, a bit leggier maybe, but vastly experienced. All that guile and knowledge will have to be on the hardwood if Argentina is to pass the US. The South Americans were hit and miss during the group phase, a trend that simply cannot continue on Wednesday if there is any hope.
Croatia vs. Serbia – Both teams enjoyed solid group phases. Croatia in fact impressed by topping what was a hotly fought Group B. The Croats kicked off the tournament in style and punished Spain in game one and have not looked back. Croatian ranks are peppered with hot European talent, so the team is capable of blowing teams away during periods of games.
Serbia will have to put together a united defensive display to stop Croatia finding a scoring rhythm. The country has been solid but unspectacular in what was admittedly a tricky Group A. The Serb contingent are solid under pressure, so the knock-out style of the contest could play into their hands.
Australia vs. Lithuania – Australia has been perhaps the surprise force of the tournament. The Aussies are always good, but this last week they have been a genuine threat. The only blemish on the team’s record is the loss to the USA, but even that game was not as decisive a loss as some would have predicted. If Australia can grow further this week, the team may well be a real threat for gold medal.
It is hard to judge which Lithuania will face Australia. The Europeans started on fire, winning three consecutive contests and looking very good. As it turned out, those three wins were pivotal as they pushed the team through. Lithuania crumbled to two defeats and heads into this contest in losing form. The demolition by Spain will be of particular concern to fans at the 2016 Olympic Games and at home.
Spain vs. France – Arguably the most intriguing game of the Quarterfinals, Spain and France seem to be very evenly matched. A week ago we may not have been saying that. Spain started the competition with a torrid start, losing two games. There were rumors that embarrassment for the runners up in 2008 and 2012 was on the cards.
However, the Spanish finally turned up in Rio and over the last three games have been hugely impressive. Indeed, the players finally clicked and Spain is probably the form team in the competition right now. Once again the nation is a genuine challenger for the gold medal and at times looks capable of shocking the USA, should they meet.
While Spain has improved in explosive fashion, France has been consistently impressive. Les Bleus have a roster that includes Huertal, NBA veteran Tony Parker, and Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo. That triumvirate could drive France far and the nation (without Parker) gave the USA a very close game on Saturday.