YEREVAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Pre-Qualifiers) - The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Pre-Qualifiers will come to a climax on Saturday with high-stakes games across the continent set to decide the fate of the three remaining tickets to the Qualifiers.
Estonia and Sweden became the latest teams to join the qualified ranks of Austria, Bulgaria and the Netherlands after the midweek games, but the chase is still very much on for the six teams that still have their eyes set on making the next round – Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Portugal and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
With one of the two Qualifiers spots already locked up by Sweden, the second one will be decided in a head-to-head duel between Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, featuring the competition's leading scorers Ryan Boatright and teen sensation Dzanan Musa.
Having suspended naturalized point guard Alex Renfroe for disciplinary reasons before the last game against the Slovak Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina will now also be without head coach Dusko Vujosevic, who was taken to hospital in Belgrade after the last away game in Bratislava.
"After the home loss to Sweden, we were in a bad situation. There were internal problems inside the team and we had to suspend the naturalized player. We needed some sort of a reaction for this game against the Slovak Republic and also the next one against Armenia," said assistant coach Mensur Bajramovic, who will be in charge in the last Pre-Qualifiers game in Yerevan.
Having won both of their games with double-digit margins, Armenia will get a second chance to lock up Qualifiers berth after whiffing on the first opportunity in Uppsala with a heavy-handed 93-70 defeat by Sweden in spite of a 32-point game by scoring ace Boatright.
The other game in Group A between Sweden and the Slovak Republic will determine whether the Vedran Bosnic-coached side will finish first or second in the standings.
One ticket to the next round is also available in Group D, where Portugal will be up against Belarus and a marginal point differential to cover in Coimbra after losing the first game 78-75 in Minsk.
In spite of still being winless, the Portuguese side still have a realistic chance of passing the visitors from Belarus, who enter the final game with a 1-2 mark, with a win of at least 4 points sufficient to get the job done in the standings.
Belarus missed the chance to avoid a do-or-die situation on the road in Portugal, falling 84-70 to the undefeated Group D leaders Bulgaria in Minsk on Wednesday evening.
"We were at times very close to leveling the game, but simply couldn't in the end," said swingman Vitaly Liutych who leads Belarus in scoring in the Pre-Qualifiers, averaging 17.7 points per game. "We will try to fight in Portugal and I hope we can show our best and also reserve our right to play in the next round."
Meanwhile, Kosovo have a must-win game lined up in Group C, as they get ready to entertain the top-of-the-table Estonia in Prishtina, with the fate of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also on the line.
Needing a win to pass the currently second-placed Macedonians in the standings to advance, coach Brad Greenberg's side will be the ones playing with all of the pressure, as the final result of the game has no implications whatsoever for Estonia, who have the top spot in their pocket.
In the first head-to-head meeting in Tallinn, Estonia claimed an easy 76-50 victory at the Saku Suurhall, but Kosovo already demonstrated they can be a dangerous team on their home court by topping MKD 72-68 in the first game of the campaign.
The last game of the Pre-Qualifiers between Albania and the Netherlands also has some intrigue left, at least mathematically speaking. Although an unlikely scenario, the Dutch team could still surpass Austria in the standings to claim the top seed in Group B with a win of 48 points most likely enough to do the trick.