Spain won its second global title in men’s basketball and its first since 2006, downing Argentina 95-75 in the FIBA World Cup final in China on Sunday.
The Spaniards, who were eliminated from gold-medal contention at the last four Olympics by the U.S. (including in two finals), benefited from the Americans’ early exit last week. The U.S. finished seventh, its worst result ever in a major international tournament, after losses to France and Serbia.
“Whatever is going to be decided or worked out in their house is going to be theirs,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “But it’s an honor to be above them in the final ranking. I’m expecting them so strong next year.”
But Spain had its own challenge. Its stalwart, Pau Gasol, missed the World Cup due to left foot surgery (and wrote a motivational, thank-you letter to the team before the final). Other veterans from those Olympic silver-medal teams, including Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro, have moved on.
“It’s just amazing how the whole tournament has been us as a team,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “You can tell, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the bigger team. … We were the team who has the big heart.”
This team, led by all-tournament players Marc Gasol and Rubio, played a turn-back-the-clock final against Argentina, which has one player left from its Golden Generation — 39-year-old Luis Scola.
Both Scola and Argentina’s other go-to man, point guard Facundo Campazzo, were stymied into a combined 3-of-21 shooting.
Now Spain will go to Tokyo seeking a first Olympic title after silver or bronze medals at the last three Games. Can a Spanish team, hopefully with Pau Gasol back, take on what will be a U.S. roster with the NBA superstars it lacked in China? Marc Gasol said he wasn’t sure if the brothers will be in Tokyo.
“At this point of the career, you don’t know,” he said. “You want to be there. You hope to be there. But you don’t make any promises.”
Earlier Sunday, France beat Australia 67-59 in the third-place game, denying the Aussies their first Olympic or world medal.
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