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Russia's national basketball team snatched victory in an edge-to-edge battle against France to go through to the semifinals of EuroBasket-2007 in Spain
Russia's national basketball team snatched victory in an edge-to-edge battle against France to go through to the semifinals of EuroBasket-2007 in Spain, the first time in 10 years. The European championship quarterfinals have been a stumbling block for Russia over the last four EuroBaskets, and this year could have gone the same way, but the team managed to edge the French out 75-71 after a tied score, and with just under 30 seconds of playing time remaining. Andrei Kirilenko, Russian team captain and NBA's Utah Jazz forward, said in an interview with RIA Novosti that the whole team was under a great psychological strain before hitting the floor for the quarterfinal encounter. "To tell you the truth, my knees were shaking before the game," Kirilenko said. "It was not because our rivals were strong, but because it was this one game, the quarterfinal...Finally we have lifted the curse." The 26-year-old Russian, who extended his contract in a deal worth $80 million with Utah Jazz last year, was not at his best during the game, scoring only six points, and was forced to hit the bench after earning his fifth foul with three and a half minutes of time remaining. After Kirilenko stepped off the court, Russia's guard J.R. Holden showed brilliant skill giving Russia a 71-69 two-point lead after hitting both from the line with 24 seconds left to play. The rest of the points were scored in a nerve-wreaking duel from the free-throw line, where Russia turned out to be more precise than their French rivals. "This is a big win for us. We surprised a lot of teams by getting here. We just had to stay aggressive and play our game. And we just weren't afraid and that was the difference," EuroBasket2007 official Web site cited Holden. Russia's head coach American, David Blatt, said before the game he was tired of people asking whether Russia would ever get to the semifinal stage, "I told them to believe in themselves and that we were going to put an end to this drought," he said after the game. The American coach praised Holden's game and added that it was not Kirilenko's day, who was 2001 European player of the year, as he did not tune in for the attack, but was great in defense. But the most valuable player of the match for the Russian team was 25-year-old forward Viktor Khryapa, who finished the match with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Russia will play Saturday the winner of the quarterfinal match between Lithuania and Croatia. The host team also went through to the semifinal round after defeating Germany 83-55, and Spain will now play the winner of the game between Slovenia and Greece. The last time Russia cleared the quarterfinal round was 1997, when the championships were last held in Spain. Since then the team have lost in the quarterfinals - to Italy in 1999 (79-102), Spain in 2001 (55-62), France in 2003 (69-76), and Greece in 2005 (61-66).
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