Spain won their second successive European basketball championship after beating France 98-85 in a spectacular final in the Zhalgiris Arena on Sunday.
Spain’s starting five scored a whopping 86 points, more than the entire 12-man French roster, as the champions demonstrated their class and finished the gruelling 24-team tournament with an impressive 10-1 record.
Spain, who were led by inspirational point guard Juan Carlos Navarro with 27 points, also became the first team to win back-to-back titles since the former Yugoslavia did it in the 1995 and 1997 tournaments.
Jose Luis Calderon and Los Angeles Lakers centre Pau Gasol added 17 points each for Spain, the latter also collecting 10 rebounds, Rudy Fernandez added 14 while Marc Gasol chipped in with 11 and six rebounds in front of 15,000 fans.
Tony Parker scored 26 points for France as the two teams, who have 11 NBA players between them, produced a match worthy of the tournament’s favourites.
Navarro also claimed the event’s Most Valuable Player award and it was no more than he deserved after yet another breathtaking performance, having overshadowed his opposite number Parker.
Navarro hit audacious three-pointers from almost impossible angles every time France, who trailed throughout the contest, threatened to catch up.
The Spanish were completely dominant in the paint, where Serge Ibaka dished out six blocks in defence while quick movement of the ball in offense allowed the Gasol brothers to score almost at will.
Outplayed by Navarro, triple NBA champion Parker still tried to inject some energy into his team which had no answer to Spain’s fast breaks and pick-and-roll in offense, despite scoring nine three-pointers at the other end.
“We are very pleased, the team played a good game and we rose to the occasion because we knew we were playing in the final,” Navarro told Spanish television.
Calderon, who missed the 2009 tournament in Poland and last year’s worlds where Spain were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Serbia, added: “I have suffered two very bad years but I have always felt a part of this team.
“I’d also like to dedicate this victory to the fathers of Felipe (Reyes) and Victor (Claver) who both died recently,” said the Toronto Raptors point guard.
Reyes said: “(My father) is not physically here but we know that he was up there watching the final and for sure he is celebrating with me right now.
“I wasn’t expecting to be asked (to lift the trophy) and nobody said anything but it was a very nice gesture.”
Spain’s next objective is to win the 2012 Olympics and in order to accomplish the task they will in all likelihood have to beat the United States, who edged them in a thrilling final in the 2008 Games in Beijing.
“Obviously next year’s Olympics is our goal, we know it’s a very tough tournament to win but we have very high expectations,” Pau Gasol told a news conference.
“It’s very hard to beat a U.S. team, we know that for a fact but we are going to London to compete and we’ll see what happens.”
France emulated their 1949 success when they finished as runners-up, but failed to repeat their 2005 feat of beating a more heralded Spanish team to the bronze medal at the European championship in Belgrade.
“They played a great game and deserve their title but we will be back,” Parker told France’s Canal Plus television.
Forward Boris Diaw added: “They’ve been playing together for six or seven years while we’ve only been together as a team for two years.”
Earlier on Sunday, 2007 champions Russia won the bronze medal with a dramatic 72-68 win over the tournament’s surprise package Macedonia.
Spain and France qualified automatically for the 2012 Olympics in London along with hosts Britain, while Russia, Macedonia, Lithuania and Greece will enter an inter-continental 12-team tournament for another three berths next year.
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