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Macedonia and Spain through to Euro semis

Teams to face-off in Friday's basketball championship clash

Bo McCalebb
Image Credit: AP
Bo McCalebb
Gulf News

Kaunas: Holders Spain and surprise package Macedonia advanced to the European basketball championship semi-finals in contrasting fashion on Wednesday after beating their respective opponents.

Spain, who won their first title at Eurobasket 2009 in Poland, blew away Slovenia 86-64 while Macedonia, playing in only their third tournament as an independent nation, stunned hosts Lithuania 67-65.

The two will meet in today's opening semi-final while the winners of the Russia v Serbia and France v Greece quarter-finals, who met yesterday, will clash in the other semis.

Macedonia entered the 24-team tournament in Lithuania with slim hopes of advancing from their preliminary pool, but instead shocked one more heralded rival after another to send their colourful band of supporters into raptures.

Lithuania, the 2003 champions, were one of the favourites for a podium finish but will now have to work hard to secure even an Olympic qualifying berth available to just two of the four losing quarter-finalists.

Dramatic climax

American point-guard Lester Bo McCalebb again inspired the Macedonians, who now have a 7-2 record in the tournament, with a game-high 23 points but it was Vlado Ilijevski who emerged as the match-winner in a dramatic climax.

Ilievski capitalised on a turnover with 11 seconds remaining and slotted an audacious three-pointer as the Lithuanians watched in disbelief before failing to score on their last possession.

"I've never had emotions as strong as these in my entire career, we were written off as complete underdogs before the tournament and now we have the whole nation behind us," Macedonia centre Pero Antic said.

"We have silenced our critics and 14,000 home fans in Kaunas, we dedicate this victory to the Macedonian people after playing our hearts out for our country," he added.

Thousands thronged the central square in Macedonia's capital Skopje to celebrate after watching the game on giant screens.