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France vs Serbia&Montenegro
2006 FIBA World Championship, Sendai, Japan
20/08/2006Game Report, France v Serbia & Montenegro 65-61, GROUP A

SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Boris Diaw scored 20 points to lift France to a 65-61 win over defending champions Serbia & Montenegro and leaving them winless (0-2) in the process.

Diaw, who is remembered for missing all eleven of his free-throw attempts in a group game at the FIBA European Championship last year, made six free-throws in the final minute of the game to give Les Bleus their first win of this tournament. He shot eight out of ten from the charity stripe on the night.

The captain converted his first pair with 52 seconds left to play to give France a one point lead, 59-58.

Serbia & Montenegro then had a chance to get back on top when Aymeric Jeanneau sent Bojan Popovic to the foul line with 14 seconds left to play.

But Popovic missed both attempts and Jeanneau made amends for his mistake by converting his own pair at the other end to push France's lead up to 61-58.

Popovic converted his next two tries from the charity stripe to give his side a fighting chance at 61-60 with six seconds left to play.

However Serbia & Montenegro had to foul to stop the clock and hope that France would miss their free-throws. But Diaw calmly sank four more while Igor Rakocevic surprisingly missed one of two for the final score line.

In winning this game, France hopes it can put to rest any notions that their win over the same opponent in the knockout stages of the 2005 Eurobasket in Novi Sad last year was a fluke.

Much like last year's epic battle, this game was very physical, gritty and low-scoring.

The lead changed eight times and was never more than six points for either team and the game was tied 12 times.

It didn't look too promising for France early on as Diaw picked up two fouls in the game's first two minutes and had to sit down for the rest of the first quarter.

But Les Bleus, who are already missing Tony Parker, did not panick and played together. It paid dividends as they took a 19-13 lead on Mickael Pietrus' three pointer.

Serbia & Montenegro came back as Ognjen Askrabic and Rakocevic both hit from downtown to tie the game at 21-21.

Les Bleus won the hard way in what was a very physical and gritty game - reminiscent of last year's encounter in Novi Sad - which was close for the first three quarters with the lead never being more than five or six points for either team.

They had a tough start losing captain Boris Diaw to foul trouble only two minutes into the game.

But his teammates stepped up and took a six-point lead, 19-13 on Mickael Pietrus' deep three.

Serbia & Montenegro came back as Ognjen Askrabic and Igor Rakocevic hit back-to-back three pointers to tie the game at 19-19.

The sides went into the break tied at 30-30 and the games stayed close until Rakocevic's three pointer gave Dragan Sakota's men a five point cushion, 41-36.

France responded with a 7-0 run to take a 43-41 lead and should have extended their advantage but Mickael Pietrus missed a pair of free-throws and Les Bleus committed several turnovers.

Serbia & Montenegro took advantage of their opponents inability to stretch their advantage and were back in front with two minutes left to play as Rakocevic made two free-throws for a 58-56 score.

Diaw made one of two attempts from the foul line before winning the game in the last minute.

After the game he conceded that France were not yet where they want to be.

"We are still trying to find the right chemistry. Obviously it's hard to have to do it in a tournament and after losing a key player like Tony Parker," Diaw said.

"But I think today we fought really hard. We knew we had a tough game on our hands and we relied on our athleticism to tire them out and give us the best chance possible."

By Simon Wilkinson
FIBA