Captain Dennis Schröder smiled away all doubts before the ultimate World Cup test, Moritz Wagner strolled whistling through the foyer of the gigantic team hotel: the German basketball players relaxed and in the best of spirits in the semifinals against the Olympic champions USA, who were peppered with NBA stars.
«They are the favourites. They have the pressure. We achieved what we wanted to do. In the end we can play without pressure, »said Schröder, who was heavily criticized after the quarter-finals.
On Friday (2.40 p.m./Magentasport) the star ensemble of head coach Steve Kerr not only has the most important international match since the European Championship final 18 years ago, but also a historic basketball opportunity: the first is in the huge Mall of Asia Arena in Manila Entry into the World Cup final possible. “I’m built like this: if I play a game, I want to win it. No matter what. It doesn’t matter who comes, »said Schröder. His team, which saved him in the gripping 81:79 over Latvia in the quarter-finals, is the only undefeated participant at the World Championships and on course for the first World Championships medal since 2002 with Dirk Nowitzki.
Even after reaching the semi-finals and booking the Olympic ticket for Paris 2024, the Germans do not see their mission as over. National coach Gordon Herbert did not treat himself to any rewards after the successful thriller against Latvia. “My night consisted of watching USA games and watching our game again. There was no red wine and no beer,” said the 64-year-old with a grin.
The coach sticks to his captain
His leading player Schröder was explicitly backed by coach Herbert after he had been criticized from the outside for his sometimes selfish style of play in the quarter-finals. “The great thing about Dennis is that he wants the ball and makes a decision. He’s only human too. We wouldn’t be here without him,” Herbert said. Schröder only hit four of his 26 shots against Latvia.
The Toronto Raptors playmaker, who had previously shown some outstanding performances at the World Cup, will have to improve significantly against the USA if Germany are to keep their outsider chances. “Everything stays the same. Everything I’ve done for the past few weeks stays the same. I’m not trying to do anything differently. I will be aggressive and create for my teammates,” Schröder announced confidently. On Wednesday he explicitly thanked his colleagues around the strong returnee Franz Wagner after his “worst game of his career”.
Germany got all their players fit just in time for the showdown in the perverse scenery of Manila, where children and homeless people sleep on the sidewalks at night just a few meters from the basketball temple. Above all, the return of the 22-year-old Wagner should make it difficult for the USA to calculate, after all he was missing in four matches before the Latvia game. “We have a lot of video material from the last two years, so we know how good and how versatile Franz is,” said US head coach Kerr. He described the Germans as “probably the best team of this tournament so far”.
It depends on the Wagners
The Wagner brothers Franz and Moritz are key figures in the German team. The younger Franz shines above all on the floor and is already being compared to the young Nowitzki by experts. After reaching the semi-finals, Moritz worked as a DJ on the team bus and tapped his usual jokes in the interview zone. “The two are the new generation – they’re fun and will be very big,” said Schröder full of appreciation. Herbert sees the duo as “great guys, great people and not-so-bad basketball players,” he joked.
The Wagners will be particularly important in the revenge for the close 91:99 in the preparation in Abu Dhabi. “It was a training game, we also had a game the night before. We’ve gotten better, they’ve gotten better,” Herbert described before the duel with the basketball superpower, against whom they had a 16-point lead in the Persian Gulf. The USA may not have any superstars like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in their squad, but they do have a lot of great talent around winger Anthony Edwards. The team is also well put together.
World Cup gold therefore only goes to the USA, and the mistake in the 104:110 against Lithuania in the intermediate round does not change that. «What helped them a lot was the defeat against Lithuania. That was a wake up call. They were a different team against Italy. I hope we see them in the Lithuanian constitution,” Herbert said. The coach identified the key to success as not allowing the outstanding athletes from the USA to attack quickly. Franz Wagner, still used as a bench player during the comeback, should return to the starting lineup for Isaac Bonga.
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