French resistance up for debate

Did Vincent Collet's team throw the match against Spain to avoid a difficult draw?

During the customary round of greetings at the end of the game between Spain and France, José Manuel Calderón, always with a ready smile, asked Tony Parker why he hadn't played. The star of the French team laughed as he gestured toward his left leg, saying: "Look at this; I'm injured."

It was the culminating moment of the French pantomime, scandalously blatant and an insult to spectators and rivals alike. It was a lack of respect for Spain, too, which went ahead in the only way it knows how, the champion finding little resistance as it eased to a 96-69 victory against a French team that was previously undefeated in seven matches at the Eurobasket championships in Lithuania.

Neither Parker nor Joakim Noah, the two pillars of their team's success before Sunday, took any part in the game against Spain. Their efforts meant that France already had a ticket to the quarterfinals assured, as did Sergio Scariolo's team. What was at stake, then, was the leadership of the second-round group, with the knowledge that whoever came second would avoid a potentially awkward semifinal match-up against the host nation, with a likely hostile atmosphere in front of a 17,000-strong crowd in the new Kaunas pavilion.

The French strategy seems to have been one of planning ahead for the knockout rounds, leaving its two best men on the bench and playing what should have been one of the showcase matches of the tournament with a palpable lack of intensity. For Spain, Juan Carlos Navarro needed just 14 minutes to rack up four three-pointers from his first four attempts, while Pau Gasol scored 11 points in the first 18 minutes.

If the first half was easy for Spain's elite squad against Vincent Collet's team, the third quarter took on embarrassing hues: 29-10.

Once the overall score reached 89-56, Spain visibly took its foot off the gas, ending the game with all of its reserves on the court. Useful minutes for the likes of Víctor Sada, Serge Ibaka and Víctor Claver, maybe, but it was not the kind of contest basketball fans in Vilnius had been expecting.

Pressed on the question of his team's competitiveness after the match coach, Collet admitted that his players had been "inept," before adding, "But it's not easy. It was a strange match and, unfortunately, we couldn't find a middle ground. I was happy with our first-half performance and wish we could have carried on in that vein."

Spanish coach Scariolo was also reluctant to be drawn on the suggestion that there had not been a genuine contest. "France has honored the competition in being the best team up to now, and today they rested a few players. It might not be the best thing for the spectators but the first half was an equal affair. Everything has its explanation; we fought to have a day off between games [Spain will play its quarterfinal on Wednesday, followed by a possible semifinal on Friday and final on Sunday] and not in order to pick our opponent."

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