Spain’s Marc Gasol on verge of rare NBA-World Cup double

Gasol also lifted the world crown with Spain in 2006. (AFP)
Updated 15 September 2019

Spain’s Marc Gasol on verge of rare NBA-World Cup double

  • The 34-year-old proved his enduring quality by saving Spain in Friday’s double overtime victory over Australia

BEIJING: Spain’s Marc Gasol is one victory away from a rare feat — winning the NBA crown and a Basketball World Cup in the same year.

Only Lamar Odom, a double winner in 2010 with the US and the Los Angeles Lakers, has ever managed that, according to basketball’s governing body FIBA.

Now the center Gasol, who played a key role in the Toronto Raptors’ run to the NBA title, is on the verge of joining him in the history books.

The 34-year-old proved his enduring quality by saving Spain in Friday’s double overtime victory over Australia to set up a World Cup final against Argentina on Sunday in Beijing.

He had 33 points, six rebounds and four assists after stepping up when his country needed him most.

Gasol, who also lifted the world crown with Spain in 2006, said he was less interested in his personal landmark and more motivated by what it means for his country.

“I just cherish every moment for what it is,” the three-time NBA All-Star told FIBA. “I don’t try to double up. I want to give the maximum for every occasion.

“It is two completely different situations. I’m going to give my best to win a World Cup for Spain.”

BACKGROUND

Outgoing champions Team USA won their final match at the Basketball World Cup — but it was still their worst finishing place in the tournament’s history.

Gasol admitted that playing matches every other day in China soon after a long NBA season was tough.

“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically because we were so lucky to stretch our (NBA) season and get away with a championship,” he said.

“But it’s completely worth it.”

Few predicted a Spain-Argentina final.

But quarter-final defeats for reigning two-time champions the US and title favorites Serbia left the door open for the remainder of the field.

Argentina were convincing 80-66 winners over France in their semifinal with their 39-year-old talisman Luis Scola propelling them into the showdown with Spain.

Scola finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and two assists, and was given a huge ovation when he stepped off the court near the end.

Argentine coach Sergio Hernandez said there was no secret ingredient to Scola’s success, even as middle age approaches.

“He works so hard,” said Hernandez, explaining how Scola had locked himself away in his own training camp at the start of the summer.

“He was in his house, in the middle of nowhere, for 14 weeks in a row,” said Hernandez.

“He made a basketball court and was there was a basketball trainer and a physical trainer.”

Argentina’s only previous World Cup success came as hosts in the inaugural edition in 1950.

Also on Sunday, Australia, who led for long periods against Spain, play France for bronze.


Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

Updated 14 October 2019

Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

  • The 27-year-old’s return to Champions League action may now be delayed

SINGAPORE: Neymar limped off injured early on as Brazil played out a 1-1 friendly draw against a spirited Nigeria at the Singapore National Stadium on Sunday.

The five-time world champions fell behind in the first half, but Casemiro's equalizer early in the second period prevented a loss but then  Brazil were unable to leave Southeast Asia with a victory by wasting chances, after also being held by Senegal on Thursday.

Brazil started well, with Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino firing just wide in the third minute after a smart turn near the penalty spot.

However, Brazil were dealt a major blow when Neymar limped off in the 12th minute with what appeared to be a left thigh problem — the Paris Saint-Germain striker replaced by Bayern Munich’s Philippe Coutinho to bring a premature end to his 101st international appearance.

Neymar's return to Champions League action may now be delayed, with PSG facing Club Brugge on Oct. 22 after the world’s most expensive player missed the first two games through suspension.

“During the match he felt a muscle injury, so I took him off as a precaution,” Brazil coach Tite said.

“Neymar did not have a muscle issue before the match. I would never start a player if they had a hint of a problem like this, I would never pay that price,” Tite added of the 27-year-old, who has suffered a string of injuries since his move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017.

“My career has taught me that I would never use a player if he was not in condition to play. It would be irresponsible of me to risk a player carrying an injury.”

Neymar will be disappointed he was unable to draw level with Brazil legend Ronaldo, who sits second in the country’s all-time scoring list behind Pele, on 62 international goals this week. But Nigeria provided resolute opposition by working hard to prevent the South Americans from forging many clear openings.

Gabriel Jesus, Firmino and Coutinho all went close for Brazil, but it was Nigeria who took the lead in the 35th minute when Joe Aribo burst through a gap in the South Americans' defence and skipped around Marquinhos before firing low past goalkeeper Ederson from close range.

The smart strike was the English-born player's second goal in two appearance for Nigeria after the Rangers midfielder scored on his debut against Ukraine last month.

A more determined Brazil needed just three minutes after the interval to draw level, however, as Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro slotted home after a Marquinhos header had rattled the crossbar following a well-worked corner.

Brazil ramped up the pressure as the match progressed, stretching the Nigeria defence with sharp passing and clever movement as Casemiro, Jesus and half-time substitute Richarlison all came close to giving their side the lead.

Tite's men poured forward in search of a winner with Coutinho guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity with five minutes remaining when the unmarked midfielder's weak effort was cleared off the line by Semi Ajayi.

"I thought it was a good match for us and we created plenty of chances but just could not get that second goal," Tite added. "We definitely missed Neymar's creativity after he went off."