Greece's Theodoros Papaloukas has warned the United States not to underestimate his team in today's semi-final at the World Basketball Championship in Japan. - Reuters
SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters):
GREECE HAVE fired a warning to the United States before today's semi-final at the World Basketball Championship: "Write us off at your peril".
Greece have no current NBA players and Carmelo Anthony's throw-away joke that the Greek names were too long left no doubt the U.S. were not too concerned about their opponents.
However, Greece are more than happy to go into their semi-final as rank outsiders.
"It's good like this," smiled Greek guard Theodoros Papaloukas. "If things go wrong for them in the game they will get stressed."
Greece are the current European champions and their blue-collar style of basketball has earned the respect of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski.
A championship team
"Our team won't look past Greece," he said. "They play defence about as well as anybody in the world - they are a championship team."
Greece have come through the championship in Japan with an unblemished 7-0 record, as did the U.S. and the teams in today's other semi-final, Argentina and Spain.
"Greece are a team who have been together for a long time," U.S. forward LeBron James said. "We will have to have a defensive mindset for 40 minutes. We'll have to bring our A-plus game."
Greece's pressurising zone defence has been the key to their success in Japan and they will look to prevent a high-energy U.S. team from turning today's game into a run-and-gun affair.
"You do not want an open-court game with the U.S. because then it's easy for them," said Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis.
"I'm proud of this team already. There are no
egos here. I'm happy to be in the semi-finals and I am hoping for more happiness in the next days."
Greece's defence came up trumps in Wednesday's 73-56 quarter-final victory over France and Sofoklis Schortsanitis predicted another big effort today.
"We have to beat the Americans to win a medal," said the muscle-bound forward dubbed 'Baby Shaq'. "So we will have to bring down the lights."