Estonia’s national basketballers, having occasionally played fine in qualifications for 2013 European Championships, enter the fray for a place in the finals of 2015. To begin with, today they play Holland, a team beaten by them two years back. However, the latter is not half the bunch it used to be.
Last November, Dutch Basketball Association announced they would not be sending the national team to qualifications, due to financial woes. Later, they did reverse the decision, but the team had already been affected.
«Holland has not had too many friendlies this year. They did lose twice to Belgium, recently (53:61 and 55:64), but they did some decent playing,» said the Estonian vice coach Alar Varrak.
This summer, the Dutch have also played Belarus, assisted – as we know – by coach Martin Müürsepp. Belarus pocketed the first game 82:58. Using younger guys, they lost the second one 70:77.
«Müürsepp said these games meant nothing as the Dutch did not have their team together, as yet,» said Mr Varrak. «The games had been agreed long in advance. Due to financial problems, the Dutch team was actually assembled much later. These games revealed next to nothing.»
Three pillars missing
Problems, however, have also plagued Estonia this summer. Thus they will have to do without three main players, today. The two sharpshooters of last year’s qualifications – Kristjan Kangur (average 13.3 points in 10 games) and Siim-Sander Vene (14.0) – will not play against Holland. This Tuesday, Mr Kangur had the so-called sports hernia surgery in Germany; Mr Vene has had trouble with back pain, with no way of knowing when this might end. «Playing a team with a strong centre, we will surely be missing Kristjan,» admitted head coach Tiit Sokk in the wake of the friendlies, adding that the lack of tall guys is mostly felt in defence.
Still hope remains that both men will get on board as the games continue. Mr Vene just might get to play against Portugal, this Sunday. Concerning Mr Kangur, Estonia’s manager Keio Kuhi said: «The diagnosis proved correct; surgery went according to plan. For a while, Kristjan must let the cut rest; however, they said he could do mild training in 6-7 days’ time, as he feels fit.»
Yesterday, yet another blow was dealt to Estonia as point guard Tanel Sokk contracted a stomach virus, thus also unable to travel to Holland.
Wild card called Hallik
Hopefully, help will come in the face of Reinar Hallik, standing out last summer with 48.5 per cent three-pointers. «Right now, the trend is to miss; even so, he is definitely a card to use,» thinks Mr Sokk.
With Kangur and Vene missing, point guard Gert Dorbek has had to work hard at position 4. «He has had to play 4 a lot now. It should not remain like that, really,» noted main centre Janar Talts.
Judging by last summer, Estonia ought to be a kind of a favourite in the subgroup (B, with Holland and Portugal). In a strong subgroup, Estonians managed to take six wins and four defeats, landing fourth after Montenegro, Israel and Serbia. Holland, however, took two wins and six losses; Portugal had to accept defeat in all eight games.
To Estonia, both opponents are rather well known, having played both in qualifications a couple of years ago. Lately, they played Holland in B-division: in the summer of 2010, they lost out to Holland, abroad, 76:90; a year later, at home Gregor Arbet and Gert Dorbek shot us to a 78:60 victory.
«Their team is renewed, by more than a half. The tall and experienced centres [Francisco] Elson and [Daniel] Gadzuric are no longer included. Also, the excellent basket-zone-force [Henk] Norel is injured,» said Mr Varrak. «There are some names we know, but all told they are coming with a new generation.»
Against Portugal, Estonia gained a 79:70 victory, abroad, in the summer of 2008. At home, however, we were defeated, 54:60. Regarding Portugal, Estonians have received tips from Mr – Belarus beating them 71:67, thereafter losing 68:81.