Cologne (dpa) – After the 50-minute basketball drama against Lithuania, the German basketball players initially lacked the strength for a big party.
In a dramatic game, the team around the outstanding NBA professional Franz Wagner defeated co-favorite Lithuania after two extra hours in Cologne with 109:107 (96:96, 89:89, 46:41) and thus celebrated the best German start to the European Championship Story.
With the impressive show of strength in front of 18,017 spectators – including football star Mats Hummels – in the sold-out Lanxess Arena, the German team triggered further enthusiasm. The ticket to the finals in Berlin (from September 10th) is almost certain. If France wins against Hungary on Sunday evening, Germany is sure to be in the round of 16.
“50 thrilling minutes”
“It was a really good basketball game. There were 50 thrilling minutes, somehow we made it,” said national coach Gordon Herbert. “Lithuania has one of the best teams in the world. We had to find a way.” After the game, the Lithuanians discussed a protest against the match rating because the weak referees had not awarded them a free throw enough. “I have no idea what’s coming next,” said Maodo Lo, who was strong again, especially in extra time. “I think we deserved to win.”
For Germany, Wagner (32 points), who was particularly outstanding in the first half, was the best thrower. “It was a wild game. It was a lot of fun,” said Wagner. Jonas Valanciunas (34 points) convinced in Lithuania. There had never been three victories for Germany at the start of a major tournament, even in the successful era with ex-superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Herbert had to compensate for a lot of prominent failures before the start, but now seems to have created a collective for which even the first German medal in 17 years is feasible.
A heated and thrilling game developed against the previously winless Lithuanians, who were again supported by thousands of green-clad fans. Center Daniel Theis, who only recovered from a knee injury this week, contributed the first five points, Wagner was the most conspicuous player in the German jersey in the early minutes: he moved aggressively to the basket and also showed his ability on the defensive with a steal and a spectacular block whole repertoire.
It was impressive how the Germans held their ground in the zone against the two giants Valanciunas (2.13 meters) and Domantas Sabonis (2.11 meters). Wagner, who had only made his debut in the national jersey a few weeks ago, was up front everywhere: the 21-year-old from the Orlando Magic scored from the middle distance, attacked the ring and then took over from the line of three.
“The offensive is running, Franz is running. In the end it was a bit bitter. Franz has such a run and we can’t make more profit from it,” said center Johannes Voigtmann at half-time at Magentasport. It almost took revenge as Lithuania never shook off and equalized just before the end. Even in the first overtime there was no winner in the dramatic game, only in the second additional time did Germany secure victory and let the German fans freak out.
The basketball enthusiasm around the multifunctional hall in Cologne is enormous. Well over 100,000 spectators were already in the arena on the first three match days, in addition to the German fans in Schröder or Nowitzki jerseys, the Lithuanians were particularly represented in large numbers and even made the home field advantage disputed by the hosts on Sunday. “It’s awesome. It makes you want to play here. The fans are unbelievable,” said Johannes Thiemann about the scenery, which is rather unusual in Germany.
Tournament ambassador Nowitzki is also impressed by the festival-like event on the Rhine. “Almost 19,000 fans in the hall, it’s a bit tingling,” said the 44-year-old superstar in the ZDF “Sportstudio”, where he spoke in detail about himself and the current EM hype. So far, this has primarily been felt in Cologne and not nationwide, because the games of Schröder and Co. can only be seen in the live stream and not on television.
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