Stunned Serbia buckled under World Cup expectations: coach

Argentina's Gabriel Deck tries to shoot past Serbia's Nemanja Bjelica at left and Serbia's Nikola Jokic during a quarterfinal match for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Dongguan in southern China's Guangdong province on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019
Updated 10 September 2019

Stunned Serbia buckled under World Cup expectations: coach

  • For the Serbs, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings led all scorers with 21 points
  • Argentina are now undefeated in six games

DONGGUAN, China, Sept 10, 2019 Agence France Presse: Serbia’s coach said that his strongly fancied team collapsed under the weight of expectation as they were stunned by Argentina in the Basketball World Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The South Americans’ grand old man Luis Scola knocked down a series of key buckets in a fourth-quarter surge to help crush Serbia 97-87 in the Chinese city of Dongguan.
Argentina are now undefeated in six games and headed for a Friday semifinal against reigning two-time champions the United States or France.
In Tuesday’s other quarter-final, Spain’s Ricky Rubio became the all-time leader for World Cup assists in a 90-78 win over surprise package Poland in Shanghai.
With Gregg Popovich’s US squad unbeaten but still failing to convince, Serbia had emerged as favorites — but their coach Sasha Djordjevic said his players had buckled.
“It was euphoria in our country — everybody followed us, everybody gave us a hand, everybody was eager to see us play in this tournament,” he said.
“We became favorites just like that, everybody was writing — not only in our papers but everywhere around the world — that we are the team, we are the ones, we will win,” he added.
“Sometimes that does not help.”
For the Serbs, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings led all scorers with 21 points, while Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic added 16.
But it was Scola, 39 years old and the last remaining member of Argentina’s “Golden Generation” that won the Olympics in 2004, who remains on course for another milestone.
The World Cup is the only major international trophy that he has yet to win. He finished with a team-high 20 points and Argentina were the more fluid throughout the contest.
Trailing most of the game, Serbia threatened to take control when they grabbed a 70-68 fourth-quarter lead on a three-pointer by the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marko Guduric.
That’s when Scola stepped up, scoring eight rapid-fire points in a 21-6 Argentina run that dropped the curtain on Serbia’s World Cup.
“It just bothers me that people keep talking about a miracle, keep talking about a surprise, keep talking about nobody believes it,” said the veteran.
“This is far from a miracle — we are a good basketball team, we played great basketball all the way along, we deserve to be here.”
Spain’s coach Sergio Scariolo hailed Rubio after what he called a “tough war” with Poland.
Phoenix Suns’ Rubio made an electric start for Olympic bronze medallists Spain, who will play Australia or the Czech Republic in Friday’s semis.
He had nine points in the first half and grabbed a record 107th career World Cup assist, surpassing Pablo Prigioni of Argentina.
Rubio finished the game with 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds against a Poland side who were back in the World Cup after a 52-year absence.
“Tonight is a really great night to congratulate Ricky as the best passer in the history of the World Cup,” said Scariolo.
“It’s huge and I really feel proud of him. This is his night.”
Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets surged to 14 points before the break as Spain, ranked second in the world behind the United States, threatened to run riot.


Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

Updated 12 August 2020

Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

  • Inter reach their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League

MILAN: A record-breaking Romelu Lukaku is leading Inter Milan's chase for their first trophy in 9 years.

Eyebrows were raised last year when Inter shelled out a club record of around €65 million ($73 million) plus €13 million  ($15 million) in bonuses for Lukaku, who had had a disappointing final season at Manchester United.

However, Lukaku swiftly developed a scintillating partnership with Lautaro Martínez and their goals helped Inter sustain a title challenge before eventually finishing second in Serie A, a point behind Juventus.

Inter scored 81 league goals — well above the paltry 57 they managed in the previous campaign.

Lukaku scored again on Monday and set up another to help Inter beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to reach the Europa League semifinals.

“Romelu has never played so well, not even in the past,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said.

The Belgian forward became the first player to find the net in nine consecutive Europa League games, surpassing the eight set by Alan Shearer for Newcastle in 2005.

Lukaku’s 31st goal of the season took him past the 30-mark for the first time in his career.

“I’ve always wanted to win, ever since I was little,” Lukaku said. “I’ve always said that I will give my all for this team.

“We’re a great team; my teammates help me a lot, otherwise I couldn’t do these things and achieve these numbers ... my teammates look for me. We’re doing well together, all of us.”

Inter reached their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League as well as Serie A and the Italian Cup to complete a historic treble.

They retained the Italian Cup the following year but have not managed to lift silverware since.

The Nerazzurri play Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel in the semifinals on Monday.

After an intense period of playing matches approximately every three days after soccer restarted following the pandemic-enforced shutdown, Conte has almost a week to prepare his players.

He will want to make sure they understand that profligacy can prove costly at this level.

Inter have often failed to kill off games in which they have  dominated, and that was again the case on Monday when they had opportunities to extend their advantage.

That allowed Leverkusen to stay in the quarterfinal despite having only two shots on target.

“We could have gone through in a more relaxed manner because, despite the fact that we never really had to dig in, the result was close,” Conte said.

“It’s difficult to be annoyed. I can only compliment the lads on their performance. As is the case after every game, we’ll analyze every situation and see where we can improve.”