"We came here to amaze the world. well (the appointment), it's Wednesday, gentlemen! " Monday 9 September, after the short defeat against Australia in the last match of the group stage of the World Cup, Vincent Collet, the coach of the French basketball team, had harangued his troops in the locker room. "We need to move on something else", had also pressed the back Evan Fournier. Two days later, in Dongguan, in the south of China, the Blues answered present. By winning against the two-time world champions in the US (89-79), in the quarterfinals, they hit a big blow. And achieved the greatest feat of their history. Friday, they will face Argentina for a place in the final.
"We are dogs, we have not dropped anything"After the meeting, Evan Fournier, one of France's most prominent Frenchmen, played with pivot Rudy Gobert. Even when the United States recovered and went up by ten points in the third quarter, before taking seven in advance, the French shots suddenly became more difficult, the teammates of Captain Nicolas Batum did not derogate from their game plan. "We remained united, very serious and disciplined, savored Vincent Collet. We came back and took control again to finish the job. "
Sign that these Blues have grown, not for a second they have looked at the Americans with deference. The time when the opponents of the 1992 Dream Team took pictures of NBA stars from the bench is over. Evolving daily in franchises of the North American flagship league, Gobert, Fournier or Batum rub shoulders with their opponents, assume to look in the whites of the eyes and do not have much to envy them. The French pivot of Utah Jazz has so reminded his opponents why he had won the last two trophies for best defender of the year in the NBA.
Back to basics in defense
Above all, the Blues have returned to their fundamentals. "We are euphoric because we score. No ! We are the defense that makes us win "had hammered Collet on Monday, raising his voice at the break against the Australians. "We're not ourselves, guys, we're not mean! ", Fournier added, recalling that an iron defense has always been the DNA of the teams of France. On Wednesday, facing the Americans, everyone remembered it.
"This group is amazing, savor Rudy Gobert. Sometimes you are part of a very talented group, sometimes you are part of a less talented team but humanly superb. This year, I think we have both. "
By their fault, the Americans will not become the first team to achieve the world triple. This team from the United States was composed, it is true, of neophytes at the international level – its biggest stars who evolve in the NBA could not or wanted to make the trip to China. And these players have some "Lack of experience and at the end of the match"Vincent Collet noted. Without minimizing the feat of his men: even deprived of his major players, "It was still Team USA" !
This is also what the American coach Gregg Popovich, one of the most esteemed coaches in the world, made a point of underlining by taking his hat off to his French counterpart, long criticized for his lack of authority, or underestimated in profit from the exceptional generation of players he has had under his orders for the last ten years. "France beat us! Regardless of the players who made up our team, he started. Coach Collet and his group did a remarkable job. This is the best team in France that I could see. They play strong in defense, they are physical, they defend well individually. They all really complement each other. "
Because the French performance did not find the impossible feat, but the game plan executed to the letter. In front of those Americans, the best team won Wednesday. And unlike 2006, where the mistakes of "Team America" was for much in his tragedy against Greece, the men of Gregg Popovich showed exemplary behavior. "People will say it's a huge surprise, considering who we are and what the team has been doing for years, pointed out leader Kemba Walker. But they played really well. " The gap between the United States and the rest of the world has narrowed, and in 2019, it takes more than their team B to fly over the planet basketball.
"What we want is the title"
However, the Blues have not exploded with joy at the siren. Because "Beat the Americans was not the goal, what we want is the title"insisted Rudy Gobert at the end of the match. But also because the French, even if they are bombarded favorites of the semifinal against Argentina of the eternal Luis Scola (39 years), remember the World Cup 2014. A number of them were there .
That year, having achieved the feat of beating Spain, one of the leading nations of basketball, at home at the same stage of the competition, they had fallen high in the semifinal against Serbia. "We made a huge mistake after Spain's match. Unfortunately we had relaxed for a quarter of a time, and our dreams had fallen apart, remember Evan Fournier. We do not want to repeat the same mistake. "
"Before this victory against the United States, we also proved that we could lose games stupidly", recalls Franck Ntilikina, evoking the sting against Australians Monday. "Argentina is a much more experienced team. They are not there by chance, this is not the first time they reach this stage », warns Vincent Collet.
Like the Blues, the South Americans beat the odds by taking the best of Serbia, favorite second in the competition. " They are proud, we know them », the coach continues, recalling the rich history of the 2004 Olympic champions.
However, the Blues, qualified as Spain for the Olympic tournament in 2020, thanks to the victory of Australia against the Czech Republic, do not change their speech one iota. "From the beginning, we say we came here to win. Nobody believed in us, but it does not matter », asserts Evan Fournier. From the first day of the rally, at the end of July, Rudy Gobet assured: "Our potential is unlimited. " After having "Amazed the world"they are aiming to sit on his throne, become vacant by their fault.