In the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers, Sweden recorded a historic win, taking down European powerhouse Croatia on the road. Consequently, Sweden jumped six places in the FIBA World ranking. The result was celebrated in Finland and Slovenia, with all three teams two wins ahead of bottom-placed Croatia halfway through the First Round.
Ludwig Degernas’ men defeated Croatia 70-64, handing Damir Mulaomerovic a losing start to his reign at the helm of the Croatian national team. The red-and-white nation now falls to 0-3, with a mountain to climb over the remaining three games.
Turning point: Sven Smajlagic knocked down a side-step three-pointer to cut Croatia’s gap to 65-63 with just under four minutes to play. Once the crowd got involved, it seemed like the hosts would complete the comeback, but guests had other ideas.
Jonas Jerebko found Simon Birgander for a big dunk to put two possessions between the teams. Croatia failed to score another field goal the rest of the way, allowing Jerebko and Ludvig Hakanson to ice the game from the charity stripe.
Game hero: “We had a lot of trouble with Viktor Gaddefors’ energy,” Mulaomerovic said after the game when asked about Sweden’s strong points.
Gaddefors translated energy into 16 points and five rebounds, and Sweden was a +20 team with him on the floor. Honorable mention goes to Simon Birgander, 12 points, 12 rebounds, getting the game’s only double-double.
Stats don’t lie: Mulaomerovic tried everything to keep his team alive, went from lineups with three bigs to small-ball lineups with Zeljko Sakic at PF and Tomislav Zubcic at C. But gambling with a smaller team did not pay off on Friday night, as Sweden used their size to get +10 in paint points.
Bottom line: The two teams will meet again in Norrkoping on Monday, with Sweden having a chance to secure a spot in the next round already in the February window.
To reach the Second Round, Croatia will now have to mount a comeback of epic proportions. Tomislav Zubcic had 20 points in this one but needs more support for Croatia to get in the win column.