The Italian team won against Serbia (102-95) and it gained access to the Tokyo Olympics. The last time Italbasket qualified for the Games was during Athens 2004. Indeed, it’s been 17 years. Coach Meo Sacchettti took the group four years ago and his mission was making it younger and competitive. Against all odds, he succeeded.
The game against Serbia
Italbasket is good both at defense and at offense. Thanks to Mannion, Polonara, and Fontecchio’s jumps, the Italian team led by 9 points (16-9). Still, the Serbia doesn’t give and its players push, names like Kokoskov, Teodosic, and Pionir. They quickly recover the gap, but the Italians aren’t just standing by. Points chase after each other, in a fair and breathtaking game. Until it’s 36-32 for Serbia.
But, after the break, the azzurri are back to triumph. At the third break, Italy leads 80-63. With only a few minutes on the clock, Serbia manages to recover eight points. But that’s not enough. Italbasket wins, thanks to24 points by Mannion, 22 by Polonara, and 21 by Fontecchio.
Watch: the highlights of the game
“I didn’t feel the weight of the captain’s shirt,” said Italbasket captain Nicolò Melli to Sky TG24, “the victory against Serbia was magical and going to the Olympics is unique, not everyone made it. We have this chance thanks to this game. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Coach Sacchetti acknowledges that, without Mell, the team would have never made it. The experienced player helped creating a young and talented group and molding it from a group of strangers to a group of friends. But the captain wasn’t the only crucial chess piece.
“My wife’s name is Olimpia,” said coach Sacchetti, “she will take all the credit of this qualification. When I met her, I went to the Moscow Olympics. She never lets me forget that.” After the celebrations and the compliments, it’s now time to pick the players who will fly to Tokyo.
Italbasket, the group going to Tokyo
For coach Sacchetti, choosing the team wasn’t as easy as thanking wife Olimpia. He called 12 players, including NBA’s Atlanta Hawks Danilo Gallinari. While Gallinari couldn’t join the Italbasket qualifications, Sacchetti couldn’t leave him behind.
“For someone with Gallinari’s talent,” said the coach, “I can make exceptions. We can’t leave someone with his qualities home. After all, we are not going to Japan on vacation. We can’t settle, we are hungry for victories.”
Coach Sacchetti had to justify his reasons for leaving behind a talented player like Awudu Abass, who won the Italian championship with Virtus Bologna. To include Gallinari, someone had to be sacrificed. And Abbas didn’t take it well. He participated in the pre-Olympics qualifications, but he won’r go to Tokyo.
”A real man looks you in the eye,” the players said on his Instagram account.
So, Italbasket is going to the Olympics. However, not without controversies. Still, the enthusiasm exceeds any issues and challenge. For Italian fans, the comparison between the Italian teams of basket and soccer was inevitable.
“Mancini is like me? We copied his Italy, filled with youth, enthusiasm, and positivity,” said Sacchetti, “my players followed the soccer adventure at Euro 2020.” The hope is that both teams will triumph.