SAITAMA, Japan -- The similarities between Spain and Argentina have made their semifinal in the FIBA World Championship as even as a big game can get.
Until you check the history.
In their run to the world championships' "other semifinal" -- the United States and Greece also play Friday with a berth in Sunday's championship game at stake -- both teams have put up virtually identical numbers.
Both are unbeaten in seven games, with an average margin of victory of 25 points. Spain is scoring 93 points per game, four more than Argentina. Argentina has been slightly stingier on defense, allowing 66 points, two less than Spain. They both won their quarterfinal games in blowouts.
Both rosters are stocked with players who are well known in
international circles and the coaches are highly respected
worldwide and share a last name, Hernandez -- Sergio of Argentina
and Pepu of Spain.
"It will be an interesting game because the two teams are very
similar and it will make for a great semifinal," Argentina forward
Walter Herrmann said. "Both teams have great players, some who
play in the NBA, some who play in the best leagues in Europe. But
more important than the individuals is the great team spirit that
we have, and they have that, too."
There are two big differences, however.
Argentina has been one of international basketball's most
successful teams in recent years, having won the silver medal in
the 2002 worlds and followed that two years later with Olympic gold
in Athens. Eight players on this roster were on those teams.
Yet Spain, which was fifth in 2002 and fourth in Athens, has
dominated Argentina for years, especially recently.
The two have met 18 times in worlds, Olympics and
exhibition games. Spain has won 16 of those, with Argentina's only
wins coming in an exhibition game in Puerto Rico in 1992 and at the
1994 worlds in Canada. That means a six-game winning streak for
Spain, including one in pool play at Athens and two exhibition
games on the way to this tournament.
"I don't think our results recently against Spain will have
much of an influence on Friday's game," Argentine coach Sergio
Hernandez said. "These are two of the best teams in the world and
they play similar games with smart players. It will be a great game
that people will enjoy, but nobody can say before the game who will
Including the exhibitions leading to the worlds, Spain has won
16 straight games overall.
Spain guard Juan Carlos Navarro was asked if he and his
teammates feel the winning streak will just keep going.
"Nobody is invincible," he said. "We have been doing great
throughout the tournament. We all get along extremely well and I
believe 16 straight wins is a great accomplishment, but we are here
to try and make history."
Despite being teams from different continents, this will have
the feeling of a neighborhood brawl.
"We know Spain is a great team and my players especially know that," Sergio Hernandez said. "Many Argentine players play professionally in Spain and there are players from both teams in the NBA. Surprises? No. A great game? We can only hope."