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Lebanon vs France
2006 FIBA World Championship, Sendai, Japan
23/08/2006Game Report, Lebanon v France 74-73, GROUP A
SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Lebanon caused the upset of the tournament by holding off France's late rally to take a 74-73 win under assistant coach Kosai Khalaf - who was filling in for head coach Paul Coughter out sick, according to the Lebanese director of basketball.

Boris Diaw had a chance to equalise but missed the second of two free-throws and after France got the offensive rebound, Laurent Foirest could not make an open baseline jumper at the buzzer.

Lebanon took the lead midway through the first quarter, 11-10, on a pair of free-throws by Roy Samaha and didn't relinquish it until Foirest made two free-throws in the last minute for a 72-71 lead.

But France's advantage was short-lived as Joseph Vogel then made a three-point play to edge ahead 74-72.

Diaw drove to the basket with the clock running out and was fouled with six seconds left to play, but could only make the first free-throw and Les Bleus scrambled to get a shot off before the final buzzer.

Fadi El Khatib, who led the way with 29 points, said afterwards that Lebanon came in completely ready for this game.

"After our heavy loss to Serbia & Montenegro, we were really fired up for today's game. We played well throughout and got a much-needed win against one of the best teams in the world," he said.

Lebanon built its lead to 21-14 by the end of the first quarter behind the solid play of El Khatib.

Meanwhile, France, who were without regular starting point guard Aymeric Jeanneau sidelined by injury, saw their offense suffer as they were stagnant throughout and settled for a lot of outside shots, most of which they missed.

Les Bleus did make a few runs to cut into Lebanon's lead, coming within two points on Mickael Pietrus' dunk midway through the second quarter.

But El Khatid had a lay up and Rony Fahed made a pair of shots, including a three-pointer, to give Lebanon its biggest lead of the game, 43-30, at half-time.

Claude Bergeaud's men came in with more intensity in the second half and had a 9-0 run to once again came within two, 43-41 on a shot by Michael Gelabale.

El Khatib though stepped up once again for Lebanon, scoring their first points of the third period to get his team back on track.

France were staying within four points now, thanks in large part to the hustle of Florent Pietrus who jumped high for several rebounds at the defensive end and had some high-flying dunks.

But the difference between the two teams was the commitment with which the teams played.

Lebanon were by far the most dedicated of the two teams, diving for loose balls more often than not while France, even though they had raised their level since half-time, still looked a little too relaxed.

Florient Pietrus opened the fourth quarter with a dunk to once again get France within two, 53-51 and Bokolo made one of two free-throws to cut the deficit to just one point.

However Brian Beshara-Feghali converted a three-point play the next trip down the court and Lebanon once again had a four-point lead, 56-52.

France blew several chances to close in, with Mickael Pietrus missing a lay up and both Foirest and Joseph Gomis - who started in place of Jeanneau - not able to connect from three-point range.

Diaw scored a lay up for France to again close within three, 64-61 but Vogel made his first shot from beyond the arc - after five missed attempts - for a 67-61 lead.

Diaw tied the game at 68-68 all for the first tie since the first quarter but Fahed responded with a deep three-pointer that gave Lebanon a three-point cushion with a minute and a half left to play.

Florent Pietrus and Foirest made two free throws each before Vogel made his timely three-point play.

After the game, Bergeaud admitted that Lebanon deserved to win because France took the game too lightly.

"We were very disappointing and we didn't take this game seriously enough. Lebanon played very hard and certainly deserved to win because they showed a lot more energy and intensity," he said.

"The start of the game was very important and we didn't do too well at that time. We were too relaxed and didn't play them tough. This is a historic moment for us because we didn't respect our opponents. You respect your opponents by playing as well as you can and we came out very loose and relaxed."

Khalaf agreed that their opponents didn't take the game seriously enough until too late.

"France took it easy at the start and didn't expect to trail to us. But that's what happened and they couldn't recover. But this win means nothing if we don't get a result tomorrow against Nigeria. That game is more important to me than today's win."

By Simon Wilkinson
FIBA